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The UK government has launched a new cervical screening campaign to encourage people with a cervix to get tested, especially cis-gender lesbian, bisexual women and transgender people who have a cervix.
The Help Us Help You – Cervical Screening Saves Lives campaign urges people to take up their invitation for cervical screening, in light of worrying data that suggests nearly one in three people do not.
Stewart O’Callaghan, founder and chief executive of LGBTQIA+ cancer charity Live Through This, assisted Public Health England to make the campaign more trans inclusive. They said: “It is always great to drive people to go to an appointment, but also provide them with a little bit more information that can help someone to regain agency in that appointment and feel less vulnerable.”
A study separate from the government review found that out of 137 trans men and non-binary people with cervices, 42% of those eligible for screening had never been screened.
O’Callaghan said: “If people aren’t used to penetrative sex, then they may require a smaller speculum. For trans men, there’s a similar consideration after long term testosterone therapies, and the potential of vaginal atrophy, making an examination more uncomfortable.
“There are other things around it that can make it better, whether it be topical oestrogens, or whether it be simple as a smaller speculum and a longer appointment,” they added.
The government study found that cis-gendered lesbian and bisexual women are more likely than straight women to have never attended a cervical screening, perhaps due to a misconception that people who do not have sex with men are not at risk of cervical cancer.
A campaign film, presented by Dr Zoe Williams and produced by the NHS, features the celebrities Linda Robson, Scarlett Moffatt, Louise Minchin, Sharon Gaffka and drag queen Victoria Scone, who said: “Initially I was uncertain as to whether a cervical screening was imperative for me as a queer woman.
“However, this new campaign has clarified that all women and people with a cervix, including those in the LGBTQ+ community like myself are eligible for a screening, so I booked myself in. I think it’s so important to openly talk about cervical screenings and encourage each other to attend theirs.”
The campaign aims to normalise conversations about cervical screening and reduce embarrassment, which was the most common reason for not booking an appointment in the government’s survey.
Maria Caulfield, Minister for Patient Safety and Primary Care, said in a statement: “Through our new campaign we’re calling on all women and people with a cervix to get screened to help save hundreds of lives. Even if you’re feeling embarrassed or nervous, please don’t ignore your invitation.”
Around 2700 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer in England every year, with approximately 690 annual deaths. However, it is thought that up to 83% of cervical cancer deaths could be prevented with proper screening.
Receiving the HPV vaccination protects against abnormal cells that can develop into cervical cancer. Reports recently circulated suggesting that those who are vaccinated might only need to attend one or two cervical screenings in their entire life, as opposed to the typical screening rate of every three years between the ages of 25 and 49, and every five years between ages 50 and 64. In the meantime, Cancer Research UK still urges people to take up their invitations and attend their cervical screenings.