Most people reading this will be wondering why Men's Sexual Health is covering the topic of Cervical Screening, other than it being a very important issue to raise, we are funded in Swindon to raise awareness of all kind of issue affecting the LGB (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual) community as well as the heterosexual community.
As this week, June 9th-15th is National Cervical Screening Awareness week, we wanted to highlight the issue and dispel any myths that Lesbian and Bisexual woman don't need screening.
All women between the ages of 25-64 who have a cervix need to get screened, regardless of whether or not they've slept with a man. The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which causes cervical cancer, can be passed on during sexual activity between two women. Genital HPV is transmitted primarilty by skin to skin contact. The time from exposure to the virus to the development of cervical disease is highly variable an the virus can remain dormant in some people for long periods of time. Practising safer sex reduces the risk of being infected with HPV but it will not completely eradicate the risk as HPV lives on the skin in and around the whole genital area.
Cervical cancer can often be prevented. Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are associated with the HPV virus which is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The virus causes changes in the cells of the cervix, which can go on to develop into cancer over time if left untreated. That's why its important to check the health of the cells regularly. Between 25-49yrs old it is advised every 3 years after first initial screening, 50-64yrs old are advises every 5 years and 65+ woman who have never been screened can request a test and women who have had recent abnormal results will still be invited until their follow up is complete. Unlike other cancer screening methods, cervical screening is not a test for cancer, it is a method of preventing cancer by detecting and treating early abnormalities. So the best way to prevent cervical cancer is to go and get screened.
The NHS don't currently monitor sexual orientations, so you should not be routinely asked about your sexual orientation, however many woman find that they get asked sexual health questions which are more appropriate for heterosexual women, such as 'do you use contraception?'. At the point you may wish to mention your sexual orientation so that the information you are asked for or are given is more appropriate. Hopefully this will make life easier and your experience more comfortable. Thy will be aware of the kind of sex you are having and who you are having it with and will only ask you questions that are appropriate to you. However its understandable it can be difficult to come out in the best of circumstances, let alone when feeling vulnerable and about to get half naked with a stranger. If you really don't feel able or comfortable to come out then don't worry, you are certainly not alone. The most important thing is to get screened.
*Regular Screening prevents around 75% of cervical cancers from ever developing so be sure to get tested and spread the word too, by encouraging your friends, family, partners to go for screenings.
*In the UK 20% of women do not attend their Cervical Screenings.
*Some school aged girls are being given the HPV vaccination - But they still need to attend screening when they are the right ages as the vaccine doesn't protect against all types of HPV.
*Sadly around 900 women die of cervical cancer each year in England. However many of those who develop it haven't been screened regularly. Thanks to cervical screening, cervical cancer is now an uncommon disease in this country.
*Its best not to be tested during your period - It's better to have your test mid-cycle, usually 14 days after the start of your last period.
*If you do come out to a health care professional and feel they are treating you negatively because of your sexual orientation you can complain on these grounds. Depending on who the complaint is regarding you can complain to the GP, The Practice Manager or The PCT.
The Men's Sexual Health Team will be visiting the Mailcoach Swindon and Tesco Extra later this week with more information if you would like to pop by and chat with someone from the team, or pick up a leaflet on screening.
The above information comes from the LGF website where you can also download a free booklet about cervical screening.
You can also visit the NHS website for a special downloadable leaflet on the issue
For more information about Cervical Screening Awareness Week visit Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust