Cervical Cancer Prevention Week will place across Europe on 20 to 26 January, with the hopes it will raise awareness among lesbian and bisexual women.
The European Cervical Cancer Association intends to use the week to dispel myths about the disease, and to educate on its causes and methods of prevention.
Many lesbians, bisexual and queer women wrongly believe they are not at risk from cervical cancer. This is partially due to misinformed or homophobic healthcare guidelines.
In the UK before 2009, the National Health Service (NHS)’s official advice was lesbians could decline cervical smear test invitations.
The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, can be passed on during sex between women partners. Different strains of the virus also cause genital warts and precancerous vulvar lesions.
According to Cancer Research UK, 2,900 women a year are diagnosed with cervical cancer.
British charity The Lesbian and Gay Foundation (LGF) claims cervical screening saves up to 5,000 women’s lives each year.
Their Are You Ready For Your Screen Test? campaign, carried out in the North West of England, found only 49% of respondents (aged 25-64) had been for a cervical smear test within NHS recommended timescales.
Yet cervical smear tests can be a source of anxiety for all women.
In 2011, feminist website The F Word conducted a Twitter survey of cervical smear experiences. Women shared a wide range of negative or inappropriate comments that had been made during screenings.
Annie Emery, Head of Services for the LGF, said: ‘Over the years some lesbian and bisexual women accessing screening have experienced homophobia, assumptions that they are heterosexual, inappropriate treatment and most worryingly of all misinformation about their health when it comes to cervical screening.’
Since September 2008, British schoolgirls aged 12-14 have started to receive a vaccine against HPV.
The NHS now urges lesbian, bisexual and queer women (aged 25 – 64) with cervixes attend cervical screenings when invited.
The LGF website provides information on how to deal with smear tests and homophobia.
The charity are also launching a survey for Cervical Cancer Prevention Week. If you would like to complete the survey, it starts on 20 January. Click here for more details.