Lesbians and Cervical Cancer

Do lesbians get cervical cancer? Do they need Pap smear on regular basis?

This is a good question. Most people would think that lesbians do not get cervical cancer. That is not true.

This subject is discussed in an editorial in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) titled, “Health needs of women who have sex with women”. I will attempt to summarize it here.

The editorial starts by saying, “…..lesbian is a term that describes sexual identity. However, sexual identity does not necessarily predict sexual behavior—most lesbians have a history of sexual intercourse with men.”

We know that sexual intercourse with men is a powerful risk factor for cervical cancer. The virus responsible for developing changes in the cervix, which may eventually lead to cervical cancer, is called genital human papillomavirus. Studies have shown that one in five women who have never had heterosexual intercourse have human papillomavirus.

“Therefore regular testing of cervical (Pap) smears should be recommended to all women who have sex with women, regardless of their present or past sexual activities”, says the BMJ editorial.

Another condition is called “bacterial vaginosis”. This is more common in women who have sex with women than heterosexual women—it is found in up to half of women who have sex with women.

Sexually transmitted infections such as Chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis, are less common amongst women who have sex with women – but they are still at risk. The editorial says that overall more than 10 percent of women with exclusively female partners have a history of sexually transmitted infections.

Female to female sexual transmission of HIV has been reported. The editorial also briefly touches on other aspects of lesbian lifestyle which can affect lesbian’s mental and physical health.

Another article in the same issue of the BMJ provides online health information web links for lesbians. There are many sites. I will mention just two:

Health Canada site is: www.hcsc.gc.ca/english/women/facts_issues/lesbian_health.htm.

American Government site is: www.4woman.gov/faq/Lesbian.htm.

These sites offer guidance about the frequency with which lesbian women should have pap smears, screening for sexually transmitted infections, and mammograms.

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