National Screening Service launches 'LGBT+ Cervical Screening Study'

The report highlights both the positive experiences and key barriers queer people face when accessing cervical screening.

Close up of doctor's midsection, stethoscope draped over shoulders, hands clasped in front of stomach
Image Source: Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

On Monday, September 13, the National Screening Service in partnership with LINC and CervicalCheck, launches the ‘LGBT+ Cervical Screening Study’, a report examining the knowledge of, attitudes towards, participation in, and experiences of cervical screening in Ireland.

Approximately 450 LGBTQ+ people participated in the study between October 2020 and March 2021, with it being open to lesbian and bisexual women, trans men, non-binary people, and intersex people. It was 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. This is significantly lower than the 80% attendance by the general population.

Dr. Sarah Fitzgibbon, Primary Care Clinical Advisor for CervicalCheck, said: “One finding that stands out is the inaccurate information circulating in the LGBT+ community that cervical screening may not be necessary for them. CervicalCheck invites every person with a cervix in Ireland aged 25 to 65 years for free cervical screening, every three or five years depending on age.

“The aim of the programme is to detect abnormalities in the cervix that, if left untreated, could develop into cancer. Therefore it’s important that everyone who is invited attends.” 

The study conducted by the National Screening Service set out to examine how Ireland compares to the global standard of queer people’s participation in cervical screening. International evidence spanning more than two decades and from a broad range of countries suggests that lesbian and bisexual women, along with gender minorities who have a cervix, have significantly lower rates of uptake of HPV and cervical checks. 

According to the report, the main barriers to attending such appointments were found to be: 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.

LINC member and cervical screening advocate Ruth O’Mahony said: “A number of lesbian and bisexual women think they don’t need to go for screening because they are not having sex with men. And just like women in the community as a whole, many also don’t like the invasiveness of the procedure.”

O’Mahony added that “A positive experience with your GP can help you focus on taking care of your body. And if you can see yourself represented in the information being given out about female health, you’ll be more likely to consider it’s for you.”

Dr Nóirín Russell, Clinical Director for CervicalCheck, stated: “Following the publication of this report, CervicalCheck is committed to a number of actions, such as: increased training and supports for sample takers; inclusion of and communication with the LGBT+ community in cervical screening; more targeted messaging and campaigns for the LGBT+ community, working in partnership with the people we care for in screening; and further research.”

Everyone who has a cervix is at risk of cervical cancer and should avail of regular screening. To view the ‘LGBT+ Cervical Screening Study’ report, you’ll find it online here.

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