LGBTIQ people have been urged to continue regular cervical tests to prevent and detect cancer, as figures show screening has plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regular screening does not have to be frequent, with most people with a cervix needing the quick and painless test just every five years – including lesbians, trans men, and others.
A cervical screen checks for human papillomavirus (HPV), a group of viruses responsible for the vast majority of cervical cancers, among other conditions.
This year, an additional 35,000 people who were due have not had their test.
LGBTIQ people can face barriers to healthcare, including cervical screening, and doctors are concerned that the pandemic has worsened the situation.
HPV is sexually transmitted, including through oral sex and skin touching – penetrative sex or sex involving a penis are not necessary for it to be passed on.
While most cases of HPV get better by themselves, a doctor must monitor to see if it becomes a cancer or otherwise needs treatment.
Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation Ambassador Kate was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2019, aged just 31, when she and her wife were planning to start a family.
During the IVF process, they realised they were both overdue for a cervical screen.
Kate’s tests revealed cervical cancer that required surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy – but she was able to undergo one round of IVF before the treatments.
“I went through the whole process and ended up getting one viable embryo, which was a miracle given everything my body was going through,” said Kate.
“There wasn’t a big chance that a successful pregnancy could happen from just one healthy embryo, but we put it on ice while I went through my gruelling cancer treatment.
“I finished the treatment in August 2019, and then in November 2019, my wife underwent the IVF transfer procedure.
“Amazingly, it took, and in August of last year we welcomed our little baby girl Zoë into the world.”
Kate said that early detection is key for managing HPV and cervical cancer.
“We in the LGBTIQ+ community need to look out for each other,” she said.
“Check in on your friends and your girlfriends and others in your community, and speak up and normalise the cervical screening test.”
More information on HPV and a list of LGBTIQ-friendly clinics is available from The Inner Circle.
The online resources also include a letter that people can take to their GP, covering sexuality and gender matters, relevant trauma history, and special requests to help make the test procedure easier.
“The pandemic has caused so many different disruptions in our lives, but now is the time to put our health first,” said Elizabeth Ham, National Health Promotion Manager at the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation.
“If you think you might be due or overdue for a cervical screening test, do not delay in making an appointment with your healthcare provider.
“Remember if you have a cervix, you need to have regular cervical screening tests.”
In Melbourne, Equinox in Abbotsford also provides specialist trans care.
Other Australian LGBTIQ health services and contacts are listed in the Pink Advocate services directory.