The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) that is present in almost 100% of cervical cancer cases can be transmitted in same sex relationships, according to a new report.
The report was published by Dr Julie Fish from De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester and has been used as part of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme 2009 Annual Review.
Historically it was believed that the HPV virus could only be transmitted through heterosexual relationships, leading to the incorrect assumption that lesbians are not at risk from cervical cancer and do not need to be screened.
Although some lesbians may never have had a relationship with a man, there is a strong chance a partner may have.
Research shows that 80 per cent of lesbians have had a sexual relationship with a man at some stage in their life
Any exchange of bodily fluids can pass the HPV between two people, so a woman could contract the infection from her partner.
Dr Fish’s research also unveiled evidence of lesbians feeling discouraged from cervical screening by GPs and practice nurses.
“Some lesbian women have said they feel discouraged from being screened because they are asked questions such as how regularly they have sex with their husband or boyfriend or whether they use contraception with them,” Dr. Fish said.
“Such discourse conveys the assumption that cervical screening is only necessary for heterosexual women.”
Samantha Days, services manager for the Lesbian & Gay Foundation, said: “We take quite a few inquiries about cervical cancer, particularly since Jade Goody’s battle with the disease.
“We always encourage callers to go and be screened, and also suggest they challenge doctors or nurses who imply that it isn’t necessary.”
As a result of these findings Dr Fish is now calling for much clearer information to be made available to lesbians and healthcare staff to help dispel these myths.
“This report represents an important and very useful step in our efforts to tackle inequalities in screening uptake,” commented Professor Julietta Patnick CBE, director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programme.
“A clearer understanding of the transmission routes of HPV is crucial in helping to encourage all eligible women to accept screening invitations, enabling the programme to continue and improve its valuable work in detecting cancer early.
“As a result of Dr Fish’s work the NHS Cancer Screening Programme has now produced the first national screening leaflet for lesbians.”
Dr Fish added: “I am very pleased to have worked with the NHS Cancer Screening Programme on such an important issue. Results from last year’s National Cancer Equalities Initiatives survey made it apparent that lesbians have been a poorly represented group.
“It is a very important issue because lesbian women have died from cervical cancer in the past but I now hope that now this group of women will receive the information and care they need,” she concluded.
Dr Julie Fish has extensive experience as a researcher and has recently conducted a national project with Stonewall, the UK Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual lobbying organisation, which looked at lesbian and bisexual women’s health and social care needs.