Trans people face ‘barriers’ to accessing cervical cancer screenings, charity says

Many people say they don’t request screenings out of fear of discrimination

Saman Javed
Tuesday 18 May 2021 13:21 BST
Pap smear medical test
Pap smear medical test

Transgender and non-binary people are being put off cervical cancer screenings due to discrimination, a new study suggests.

The findings, which were published in the British Journal of General Practice yesterday, surveyed 137 trans men and/or non-binary people about their experiences with cervical screening.

Of those eligible, only 58 per cent of the group had been screened, while 47 per cent felt they did not have sufficient information about cervical screening.

In the UK, only people who are registered as female with their GP or surgery are automatically invited for cervical screening.

Having a male gender marker was identified as a barrier, with participants not being called for routine screenings. 

“I changed my gender marker to male, so I am not invited at all anymore,” one respondent said.

Another told researchers: “The NHS refused to give me my results as they were under a male gender marker”.

A third person said they had tried to book themselves in for screening but had trouble doing so because the “receptionists don’t understand”.

Another barrier that respondents reported was having to answer “difficult questions” and “having to be an expert” in their own health due to a poor understanding of trans health. 

“My current GP has never mentioned cervical screening to me in [the] years I’ve been at the surgery. I do not feel confident about being trans there,” one person said.

Others have faced discrimination from GPs, with one person stating that they had met two health professional who had expressed strong moral objections to the existence of transgender people.

Out of fear that they might face similar discrimination again, they did not request a cervical screening.

Commenting on the findings, Rebecca Shoosmith, acting chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said that “just as cervical cancer does not discriminate, cervical screening shouldn’t either”. 

“Accessing cervical screening can be difficult for many people. This can be exacerbated for trans men and/or non-binary people with a cervix who face many barriers to accessing routine cervical screening, as well as discrimination because of their gender identity,” Shoosmith said.

The authors of the study, titled Attitudes of transgender men and non-binary people to cervical screening: a cross-sectional mixed-methods study in the UK, said transgender men and non-binary (TMNB) people face barriers at personal, interpersonal, and institutional levels.

“Cervical screening uptake could be increased by adopting TMNB-appropriate screening invitations, providing options for self-sampling, improving cultural sensitivity in health literature, and improving access to trans-specific or trans-aware health services.”

Cervical cancer is the fifth most common cancer worldwide. Between 2015 and 2017 there were 3,152 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the UK, according to Cancer Research UK.

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