HSE cervical screening service, CervicalCheck, is planning to introduce new targeted messaging towards the LGBTQ+ community, encouraging them to avail of free smear tests. This comes after a recent study conducted by the National Screening Service revealed that queer people with cervixes were significantly less likely to avail of regular screenings, compared to the general population.
CervicalCheck is following recommendations made in the report labeled ‘LGBT+ Cervical Screening Study’ which suggested that they should create a section on their website specifically for the LGBTQ+ community, and that a communications campaign should be developed to target this group as well.
Furthermore, the National Screening Service recommended that they should promote training for cervical smear sample takers, and ensure that these sample takers are encouraging cervical screening to queer patients.
The study which was launched in September examined approximately 450 LGBTQ+ people between October 2020 and March 2021. It found that while the majority said they had positive experiences of cervical screening, only about two-thirds of those surveyed said they attended cervical screening regularly, a significantly lower figure than the 80% attendance by the general population.
At the time of the study’s release, Dr Sarah Fitzgibbon of CervicalCheck noted the alarming misinformation spreading throughout the LGBTQ+ community that cervical screening may not be necessary for them. Other barriers that queer people face to attending such appointments were highlighted as being: heteronormative assumptions made by healthcare professionals regarding people’s circumstances; the person being asked heterosexual questions by healthcare professionals which do not accurately reflect their gender identity, and; fear of the test procedure itself.
Over 62% of those surveyed admitted to not stating their gender or sexual identity when attending a screening.
Speaking to The Journal, Dr Fitzgibbon said that anyone with a cervix aged between 25-65 should avail of free cervical screening every three to five years, depending on their age and previous smear history.
She continued by saying: “If a person isn’t currently sexually active, that can sometimes make them feel that they do not need to attend for screening, and there has been maybe some misunderstanding about what ‘sexually active’ means.
“They might assume that means that if they have had penetrative, heterosexual sex that they would need to attend for screening, whereas, what we know with HPV screening is that anybody who has ever been sexually active – and that does not need to mean heterosexual sex – that they would be at risk of HPV infection, which is a risk factor for developing changes in the cells in your cervix.”
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