The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to Cervical Cancer Screening Tests (CSTs) plummeting among people with cervixes by more than half from February 2021 to February 2020. 

More than 35,000 people have not had their five-yearly test compared to the same 28-day period last year.

Pathology Awareness Australia has declared the queer community face more barriers in accessing CSTs, with misunderstandings regarding the link between HPV and most cervical cancers and who is at risk. 

Associate Professor Julie Mooney-Somers, an LGBTIQ+ health researcher at the University of Sydney, said, “HPV is present in 93% of all cervical cancer cases.”

Some think HPV is transmitted only if the penis is involved; however, it is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, hands, mouth, genitals or shared sex toys. 

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Cervix screening starts at 25 years old. The National Cervical Screening Program uses ‘people with a cervix’ to include transgender and non-binary people, not only women with cervixes.   

Strong Push For Education

Kate Stephenson, a Police Detective in Moree, New South Wales, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in April 2019 at 31 years old, when she and her wife were trying to start a family. 

“My wife and I were starting the IVF process, and as part, we both had to get pap-smears. We were both 12 months overdue. Because of that pap-smear, my IVF specialist discovered a tumour during that process,” Stephenson told Star Observer.

Despite her oncologist’s reluctance, she went through one round of egg retrieval surgery. Five eggs came out, and once mixed with sperm and put on ice, one survived.

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Stephenson then went through chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This has caused medical menopause, lymphedema among other painful side effects. In November 2019, her wife underwent embryo transfer with the egg. Their daughter, Zoë, was born in August 2020. 

“If I had read or heard about someone like me going through what I was going through, even six months earlier, I probably would’ve gone and gotten tested, and I’d be in a completely different position to what I was in at that time.”

Stephenson has pledged as an ambassador of the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation to keep talking about cervical cancer and encouraging people to do their five-yearly tests. 

Self-Collection Tests Are Accurate

Star Observer spoke to Professor Marion Saville AM, Executive Director and Public Officer of the VCS Foundation, whose vision is to prevent cancer and infectious diseases through health services. Professor Saville was selected as a member (AM) of the Order of Australia in 2020 for her service to women’s health through cervical screening initiatives. 

Professor Saville is endorsing self-collection tests, specifically for the queer community, as an alternative option if having a speculum examination is the reason they are putting off screening. If they are aged 30 years  or older and are at least two years overdue for cervical screening, they can access self-collection.

“What we now know for the detection of the cervical pre-cancer, a sample taken from the vagina, by the person, with a small swab is as accurate as one taken during a health exam.”

Pathology Awareness Australia and the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation have joined forces to urge women in same-sex relationships. Everyone else in the queer community that is eligible for a Cervical Screening Test can check in with their healthcare provider to ensure they are up to date. 

 

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