Live Through This launches campaign to address “inequalities and misinformation around cervical screening within the LGBTQ+ community”. 

Graham Robson April 11, 2023

People within the LGBTQ+ community may be at a higher risk of cervical cancer due to lower screening rates, according to Live Through This – a charity that supports and advocates for LGBTQ+ people affected by cancer.

The charity is working in partnership with the West Yorkshire & Harrogate Cancer Alliance to launch a new campaign addressing what it calls “the inequalities and misinformation around cervical screening within the LGBTQ+ community”.

In a release, the charity said: “Everyone with a cervix has a right to attend cervical screening but research shows that trans patients in particular either don’t know if they are eligible or find the barriers and attitudes towards them in healthcare to be inappropriate.”  

Launching in West Yorkshire over Easter weekend, Remove the Doubt is a dedicated cervical screening awareness campaign aimed at the LGBTQ+ community. The campaign includes people from the LGBTQ+ community and it is scheduled to run for a six-week period.  The aims of the campaign are to:

  • Increase awareness and understanding of cervical screening eligibility;
  • Educate health professionals about the LGBTQ+ community and their experiences through webinars as part of the campaign drive.
West Yorkshire has been selected as the launch location for this campaign due to Hebden Bridge’s status as the unofficial ‘Lesbian Capital of the UK’. In addition, the uptake for the NHS cervical screening programme is 71.5% in comparison to the national target which is 80%. 

The campaign has been developed to bust many of the myths surrounding cervical screening within the LGBTQ+ community, including eligibility, whether invitations are sent out and if individuals will be treated appropriately.

Claire, a lesbian patient in her sixties, said: “I celebrate being part of the L in the LGBTQ+ community. It is important for those with a cervix in the LGBTQ+ community to have comfortable and easy access to smears. I was pleased to hear people can talk to their doctor or nurse regarding how the smear is completed; the size of the speculum; having someone with you and just trying to make an experience, which is not always (rarely) good, a little less embarrassing, painful, undignified and traumatising.

“I feel this information should be given to everyone who has a cervix, and I am also passionate that the LGBTQ+ community needs to share and spread the word. We are a significant percentage of the population and as the campaign says, we have a right to access the service.”

Another case study, Kiki, added:  “As someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one to cervical cancer, I cannot overemphasise the importance of the Remove the Doubt campaign. I completely understand why many queer women feel nervous or anxious about the screening. I used to feel anxious too, but after having an open conversation with my healthcare provider, I was given the option of a smaller speculum and lots of other reassurances.

“I want to encourage queer African women, especially, to prioritise their well-being by scheduling a cervical cancer screening with their healthcare provider. Delaying these screenings can result in missed opportunities to detect and treat/manage potential health concerns early on. Remember, taking care of your health is an act of self-love and self-preservation.”

The Live Through This website is already home to a raft of resources and to mark the launch of Remove the Doubt, alongside West Yorkshire & Harrogate Cancer Alliance, it is hosting a series of free-to-attend webinars.  Aimed at healthcare professionals the webinars will cover essential topics such as use of pronouns, barriers to screening and trans inclusion.

Stewart O’Callaghan, CEO and Founder of Live Through This, said: “It is so important to be able to deliver a cervical cancer campaign for the LGBTQ+ community, by the LGBTQ+ community. With research demonstrating that our community falls behind on screening uptake, it is clear we need to diversify the commonly seen cancer campaigns to include those who are facing additional barriers.

“Cervical screening saves lives, and it is important that we can convey this message to our community in a way that they want to receive it. That is why Remove the Doubt proudly features community members front and centre, sharing their own perspectives on screening and letting others know that if they can do it, you can too. I am grateful to these people who are the face of our campaign and applaud them for standing up to share the important message of screening with our community.”

Hayley Snowden, Health Inequalities Programme Manager for the West Yorkshire & Harrogate Cancer Alliance, said: “It’s great to be working alongside members of the LGBTQ+ community on this campaign and we’d like to say a huge thank you to all those featured for helping us to promote positive messages around cervical screening.

“There’s no doubt that cancer screening saves lives but sadly, research shows that trans people don’t know they are eligible for cervical screening if they have a cervix. Fear is also a barrier for the community – fear that they will have a bad experience, or that healthcare staff attitudes will be inappropriate.

“As a Cancer Alliance, we wanted to shine a light on this important area of prevention – raise awareness around eligibility and educate our healthcare professional colleagues about the issues facing the LGBTQ community and how they can help and support.”

Doctor Helena Rolfe added: “As a GP and a clinical leader passionate about improving outcomes, I am strongly in favour of any campaign that will enable more individuals to come forward to get cervical screening.  We know that the NHS cervical screening programme helps prevent cervical cancer. It saves thousands of lives from cervical cancer each year in the UK.  In England cervical screening currently prevents 70% of cervical cancer deaths.

“We aim to improve this further and the way to do this is to urge anyone who is suitable for cervical screening to engage with this programme. If everyone attended screening regularly, 83% of cervical cancer deaths could be prevented.

“If you are unsure about going through with this screening please talk to your GP and share your concerns. By talking more about this vital test and looking at ways to overcome barriers, we can ensure everyone who stands to benefit from this screening gets the opportunity to do so and together we can prevent more cancers and ultimately save lives.”