Lesbians may be at higher risk for HPV because of historical health care barriers that may have caused reluctance to get preventive screenings.
Lesbians may be at higher risk for HPV because of historical health care barriers that may have caused reluctance to get preventive screenings. Making matters worse, much of the discussion around sexually transmitted infections (STIs) has focused on heterosexual couples.
“Providers and patients alike need to realize that the risks of sexually transmitted infections, including HPV, are still present in nonheterosexual relationships,” said Jordan Hatchett, APRN, gynecologic oncology nurse practitioner with Norton Cancer Institute.
STIs, including HPV, can be transferred orally, anally, skin to skin and even from sharing toys during sex.
“Many, independent of their sexuality, do not realize the relation between HPV and cervical cancer,” Jordan said.
Routine Pap tests are recommended every three years from ages 21 to 29. For ages 30 to 65 there are three choices for screening: a Pap test every three years, a high-risk HPV test every five years or co-testing with a Pap test and high-risk HPV test every five years.
Pap tests can help detect HPV and other health issues that could lead to cervical cancer.
“Pap smear testing is important because early detection can allow intervention before an abnormal Pap smear turns into cancer,” said Lynn Parker, M.D., gynecologic oncologist at Norton Cancer Institute.
Barriers to care
Understanding health risks is important to your patients’ sexual health. However, like many in the LGBTQ+ community, lesbians have faced other barriers that may keep them from seeking medical care.
Lesbians have tended to seek out cancer screenings less than heterosexual women, according to Jordan.
“Trust in the provider is a major barrier. Lesbians sometimes do not feel comfortable ‘coming out’ to their provider for fear of poor treatment or judgment,” Jordan said.
Norton Healthcare’s hospitals, along with Norton Cancer Institute, have earned the Leader in Healthcare Equality designation by the Human Rights Campaign. LGBTQ+ patients can find Norton Healthcare providers who have stepped forward as inclusive providers to make LGBTQ+ patients feel comfortable.
“As gynecologic oncologists, it is important that everyone we see feel included and comfortable discussing all aspects of their health,” Dr. Parker said. “We want to be advocates and a source of information for everyone.”