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 cis-women and transgender men 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, we still recommend that you get the cervical cancer screening on a regular basis,” says Angie Magaña, manager of the Center’s Audre Lorde Health Program.
Nearly 13,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. each year—a disease that is preventable with vaccination and with the HPV vaccination.
The pap screening looks for cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer without the appropriate treatment. The HPV screening looks specifically for the presence of the virus. The type of testing depends on your age and other risk factors.
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.
“We know that 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,” Magaña explains. “But there are many cases of women being told by a health care provider that a cisgender woman sleeping with a cisgender woman can’t transmit anything. It’s not true.”
New Self-Test Option for Trans Men
The ideal way to screen for cervical cancer is to have the provider use a speculum to visually examine both the cervix and the whole area both internally and externally.
“We know that pelvic exams can be very traumatic for anybody but especially somebody who might have some genital dysphoria, “Magaña says. “An examination can also be physically very painful for trans men who are on testosterone because the cells and the tissues in that area change so that they are no longer elastic. It can be painful and uncomfortable on many levels.”
Beginning this month, the Center is making available a new option for trans male clients: a self-test that involves using a cotton swab to collect cells.
“The self-collection option is really exclusively for people who otherwise would not have the screening,” Magaña says.
Pap and HPV tests are recommended every three years for someone under 30. Over the age of 30, the tests are recommended every five years.
“The reason it’s so important is that we can almost always catch cervical cancer early enough to treat it,” Magaña explains. “That’s why it’s really important to be screened and to get screened regularly. We want to catch any abnormalities in the cells before they progress into cancer.”
“At the Center you can get a screening that you feel good about, a screening without judgement or shame,” she adds. “You can feel like you are being taken care of here.”
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.