Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) campaigners have highlighted an inequality in the healthcare received by gay women in terms of their cervical health.
Half of all eligible lesbian and bisexual women have never had a smear test.
However, the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes most cervical cancers, can be transmitted through lesbian sex.
All women should be offered regular smear tests, regardless of sexual orientation.
A survey by the University of Salford in 2011 found that 37% of gay women had been told they didn't require a smear test because of their orientation, which is not only wrong but also incredibly dangerous.
Why aren't LGBT women getting the proper treatment?
The human papilloma virus (HPV) is a group of viruses that affects the reproductive tract. Despite there being over 100 different types of HPV, only 13 of these have been linked to cancer. Two in particular, 16 and 18, are responsible for 70% of cervical cancers and precancerous cervical lesions.
Up to 80% of people will have a form of HPV in their life, and it can be passed on through close physical contact, most commonly through sexual activity (i.e. via bodily fluids).
This means any sexual activity, not just that between a man and a woman. Two women engaging in sexual acts can still pass on HPV. Penile penetration is not necessary for transmission, as general skin to skin contact is all that's needed.
Simply assuming that lesbian women are unable to get HPV and therefore cervical cancer means that diagnosis will take a lot longer and could dramatically affect their prognosis.
According to a recent survey, over a third (36%) of LGBT women reported having their sexual orientation presumed to be heterosexual by nurses or doctors. Medical staff need to be better trained to make zero assumptions or judgements over their patients, in order to give everyone the best care possible.
The benefit of smear tests
The high-risk forms of HPV rarely present with any symptoms, so smear tests is the best (and sometimes only) way for women to find out whether they have it. Currently, the NHS provides smear tests every three years to women aged between 25 and 49, and every five years between 49 and 64 years old. It's estimated that cervical screening saves 4,500 lives every year, and rates of cervical cancer have almost halved since the introduction of screening in the 1980s.
During a cervical smear, your cells will be tested for any abnormal changes. If mild changes are detected, your sample will also be tested for HPV. For samples that test positive for high-risk HPV, you will be referred for a colposcopy. A colposcopy simply involves getting a closer look at the cervix using a magnifying camera, and you may have a biopsy taken, especially if your original sample had come back with moderate to severe samples.
Twenty-five Harley Street Day Clinic offers both cervical screening and colposcopy, meaning there's no need to go to visit a different specialist during the diagnostic process. For more information about gynaecological services that they offer, click here.