For members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, knowing your risk for certain cancers can be confusing. Are my risks different based on my sexual orientation, sexual identity, or gender identity? Should I be screened differently? Do I need to be screened? Fear not, we're going to walk through cervical cancer as it pertains to LGBTQ individuals. Sit back, read, and remember: the overall risk of an individual having any particular type of cancer at any given time is very low. The reason we screen is to catch those rare instances, so don't be anxious about any routine testing.
Anyone who has a cervix is at risk for the development of cancer, and this includes female-to-male transgender patients. The topic of female-associated anatomy can be uncomfortable for FTM patients, and sadly this aspect of health can be overlooked by patients and care providers. Working with your physician to manage your risk for cervical cancer is important, and this collaboration can and should optimize your comfort.
The primary risk factor for cervical cancer is human papilloma virus (HPV), which is a common sexually transmitted virus. Vaccines are available for HPV, and the CDC recommends this vaccination for children at 11 or 12, women up to 26, and men up to 21 (or men up to 26 for men who are immunocompromised or have sex with men). Pap smears screen for cervical cancer, and they are recommended every 3 years for all individuals ages 21 to 65 years who have a cervix, regardless of sexual history (though there are several sub-classified recommendations, which can be found here). This category includes lesbians, bisexual women, and transmen, but unfortunately these populations are under-tested due to patient and provider misconceptions.
So what can you do to management your risk of cervical cancer?
- For ages <26, talk to your doctor about HPV vaccination.
- Work with your primary care provider to ensure you're being screened appropriately.
Pap smears are uncomfortable for everyone, but for anyone on the FTM spectrum, it can be a particularly stressful procedure. Here are some general tips for facilitating a smooth Pap smear with minimal discomfort:
Where to go
The Equality Clinic is ready, able, and enthusiastic to assist in your cervical health needs. Even if you are insured, we still care about your health! There are several resources to locate LGBTQ-friendly physicians, including the WPATH directory, the GLMA directory, and the Health Initiative for Georgia.
Feeling better? Hopefully you're a little more informed on cervical health, and if you have any questions, please talk to your physician--open communication can only improve your overall wellness.