I’m lesbian. Do I need to worry about HPV or cervical cancer?
Yes. HPV is not exclusive to the act of intercourse; it can be passed along from skin-to-skin contact. Despite this fact, research from the University of Maryland School of Medicine shows that lesbians are less likely to undergo screening for cervical cancer than heterosexual women, putting them more at risk of developing the highly preventable cancer.
I’m asexual. There’s no reason for me to get a Pap test, right?
Wrong. While it’s not common, some cervical cancers arise without patients ever being exposed to HPV. Thus asexual people who don’t get Pap smears are still at risk for developing non-HPV-related cervical cancers. However, it must be noted that Pap tests can be extremely uncomfortable for someone who is sex-adverse. That’s why Saenz says clinicians must listen to individual patient concerns. “It’s important for women to be their own advocate and try to get regular checkups, but for some it is more traumatic for them. But there has to be something else. In my experience, it is pretty rare to not be able to work with someone to figure out how to care for a cancer that is almost preventable at this point.”
I’m transgender, genderqueer or gender noncomforming. Do I still need cervical cancer screenings?
Yes. Anyone with a cervix can contract cervical cancer, so this means that trans men, genderqueer and gender nonconforming people are at risk, too. However, because trans people often endure discrimination from health care providers and insurance plans, many are unable to obtain preventative care or simply avoid seeking it. In fact, according to a 2010 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 50 percent of study participants postponed preventative care due to discrimination and disrespect from providers, while 19 percent reported being refused health care because of their gender identity.
According to Saenz, this is an emerging issue in healthcare, and medicine is just beginning to be more astute about the way they treat transgender cervical cancer patients.
Did I inherit this from my parents?
At the moment, Saenz says scientists see no gene that predisposes people to cervical cancer. However, because Latinas and Native Americans tend to have a higher risk of cervical cancer, she wonders if molecular markers of the disease may be found in the future.
Could my cervical cancer come back?
Yes. According to Saenz, about 10 percent of patients seem to have problems keeping the virus in remission. So cervical cancer survivors may have additional episodes of cervical dysplasia or the disease may affect other organs like the vagina, the vulva or the anus.
Can I expose my family to the disease?
Yes and no. Because condoms are not effective against HPV, it is very likely that one’s spouse or partner has already been exposed to the virus. However, it’s less probable for other family members to contract HPV.