January’s Cervical Health Awareness Month is a good reminder for all people with a cervix to get screened for cervical cancer with a pap and HPV (human papillomavirus) testing.
This is especially true for non-heterosexual cisgender women, transgender men, and other transmasculine people who are much less likely to be up-to-date with their screenings.
No matter how you identify, what your level of sexual activity is, who your partners are, or whether or not you’ve been vaccinated for HPV, a screening for cervical cancer is still recommended, according to the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Health Services department.
Nearly 13,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. each year—a disease that is preventable with screening, early detection and with the HPV vaccination.
The pap test looks for cell changes on the cervix that might lead to cervical cancer, if left untreated. The HPV screening looks specifically for the presence of the HPV virus that causes the vast majority of cervical cancer. The type and frequency of testing recommended depends on your age and other risk factors like HIV transmission.
Cervical cancer was once the leading cause of cancer death for women in the U.S., but cases and the number of deaths have significantly declined over the past four decades thanks to the screenings.
While you can get HPV though vaginal, oral, or anal sex, it can also easily be transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact such as hand to genital.
There are many cases of women being told by a health care provider that a cisgender woman sleeping with a cisgender woman is not considered risky. It’s not true. Women who identify as lesbians and women who sleep with women have the same risk for cervical cancer but are much less likely to get screened, according to Health Services.
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The best way to screen for cervical cancer is to have the provider use a speculum to visually examine the cervix and collect the tests themselves.
Pelvic exams can be very traumatic for anybody, especially for someone who might have some genital dysphoria. An examination can also be physically painful for transmasculine people who take testosterone because the cells and the tissues in that area become less elastic. It can be painful and uncomfortable on many levels.
The Center has an alternate option available for people who otherwise would not have any screening: using a cotton swab to collect cells.
Pap and HPV tests are recommended every three years for someone under 30. For those over the age of 30, the tests are recommended every five years.
It’s important to be screened and to get screened regularly in order to catch any abnormalities in the cells before they progress into cancer.
The Center accepts most insurance plans and can help people who are uninsured or underinsured qualify for assistance programs.
Go to lalgbtcenter.org for more information.