An Australian-first campaign is aiming to reduce barriers for lesbian, bisexual and queer (LBQ) women and trans, gender diverse and non-binary people screening for cervical cancer.
This year, ACON's #AtYourCervix campaign will work with communities in NSW to build awareness, reduce stigma and increase support for cervical cancer prevention.
Cervical screening rates among LBQ women are below the state average in NSW, with misinformation and social barriers believed to be deterring many people from engaging.
Data from the Sydney Women and Sexual Health Survey 2014 show:
- 20 per cent of LBQ women in Sydney have never had a Pap test.
- 40 per cent of young LBQ women have not had the HPV vaccine or taken the full dose.
US research on the health of trans and gender diverse people through the National Transgender Discrimination Survey highlights similar disparities.
#AtYourCervix is a partnership between ACON (formerly the AIDS Council of NSW) and the Cancer Institute NSW, with support awarded through a Screening and Prevention Grant.
Why are cervical screening rates low in LBQ communities?
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, but barriers exist that can stop LGBTIQ people from screening for the disease.
Amie Wee, Cervical Screening Project Officer at ACON, says misunderstanding how the human papilloma virus (HPV) is spread can lead LGBTIQ people to believe they’re not at risk of cervical cancer.
“Many of us mistakenly believe or have been told by medical practitioners that we are low risk and don’t require cervical screening because of who we have sex with,” Amie explains.
“The common misconception is that HPV can only be contracted through vaginal/penile intercourse, yet it can also be transmitted through skin to skin contact, anal sex, oral sex, fingers and sex toys.”
“As a result, some LGBTIQ people delay or avoid screening, which can mean being diagnosed in later stages of cervical cancer.”
HPV is a common virus, however in rare cases if an HPV infection persists and is not detected, it can lead to cervical cancer.
Additionally, Amie Wee says the relationship some LGBTIQ people have with their GP around their sexuality or gender can make screening for cervical cancer uncomfortable.
How is At Your Cervix making a change?
#AtYourCervix will be led by, and built from, the communities it represents. LGBTIQ people from across NSW are already part of creating the foundation of the campaign.
An online community consultation across December and January brought together 577 responses from LBQ women sharing personal experiences about cervical screening and sexual health.
Another consultation is set to be released soon focusing on finding out more from trans, gender diverse and non-binary people with a cervix about their experiences with screening.
The campaign will focus on increasing cervical screening rates through:
- Educating people about HPV and strategies to reduce transmission.
- Sharing personal stories from members of the community.
- Representing at key events hosted through Sydney and the region.
- Offering peer led clinics with cervical screening and STI testing to communities.
- Acknowledging and celebrating the diversity of sex, gender and sexualities within our communities.
- Educating communities about upcoming changes to the National Cervical Screening Program.