Gay women not getting tested for cervical cancer

Correction: An earlier posting misstated the percentage of lesbians who had not received pap tests compared to all women. The Sun regrets the error.

Many gay women are not being screened for cervical cancer, putting them at increased risk of developing the potentially fatal disease, according to new research by the University of Maryland School of Medicine

Nearly 38 percent of about 1,000 lesbians polled by University of Maryland researchers had not received routine pap smears  to screen for cervical cancer. In comparison, Centers for Disease Control data shows that 13 percent of women overall had not had a pap test in the last three years.

Gay women may not be comfortable talking to doctors about their sexual orientation, said the study's author, J. Kathleen Tracy, an associate professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a researcher at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center.


Women who were open with their doctors about their sexual orientation were more than twice as likely to get a routine cervical cancer screening, the study found.

"We know that HPV can be transmitted during same-sex sexual activity, so lesbians are at risk of developing cervical cancer," Tracy said. "If these women aren't screened, they are at increased risk of getting this type of cancer by missing opportunities to identify precursor cervical abnormalities that can be treated."

Cervical cancer can be prevented with regular checkups. Doctors use pap tests to look for abnormal cells that could lead to the cancer.

Tracy released the study's findings at the 11th Annual AACR International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research. Cervical cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted HPV virus.

The study found that the two common reasons women did not get pap tests was that they didn't not have a physician or a referral from a physician.