Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Studying LesBians: LesBians and cancer screening

Studying LesBians is a monthly column that discusses current and not so current research about lesbians and bisexual women. This month I want to discuss research on lesBians and cancer screening.

Researchers have looked at the lives of lesbians and bisexual women from many different perspectives. Often this is from a sociological perspective, or a more psychological one.

A whole other area of research that's being conducted revolves around the physical health of queer women, which is going to be my focus of this column this month. In particular, I want to discuss findings involving cancer.

A researcher who has done a lot of research into the link between lesBians and cancer, or more specifically the risks for queer women and how they are treated within the healthcare environment is Dr. Julie Fish from De Montfort University.

Obviously, there is no such thing as a link between being gay and getting cancer, but her research has shown there are many ways in which queer women are indirectly at an increased risk of getting certain kinds of cancer.

For example, last week a report of one of Fish's studies was published in which she showed lesBians have an increased risk of getting cervical cancer.

Why? Because the the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is the virus present in almost all cervical cancer cases, is thought of as only being transmitted through heterosexual sexual conduct. However, Fish found out that the virus can just as easily be transmitted between two women who exchange bodily fluids.

The report also highlights that very often health practitioners only think to ask about male-female intercourse questions or about contraceptive use and don't make room for the possibility of lesbian relationships and their consequences.

More worrying are reports that some practitioners even tell their lesBian patients there's no need for them to go for cervical cancer screening, which of course isn't the case at all.

There's other studies that have shown how few lesbians actually get regular check ups for things like cervical cancer, which even made Stonewall launch a campaign about it recently. Find out more about cervical cancer (screening) here.

Stonewall campaign

Fish has also looked into the situation of lesBians with other forms of cancer, like breast cancer (screening), which we told you about a while back. She's currently looking into the way lesbians and bisexual women diagnosed with breast cancer deal with their coming out about this fact.

In 2007 Dr. Julie Fish was responsible for the UK Lesbians and Health care survey, which looked into lesbian and bisexual women's experiences with screenings for cervical and breast cancer, emphasizing the points already mentioned in this article: LesBians don't get screened enough and when they do, their experiences are often negative because of lack of understanding for their situation. 

Even though Fish's research focuses on the UK, it is safe to say the situation is probably similar in other European countries and around the world, if not worse. A quick look around showed that similar problems have been found in Israel, United States, South Africa, and the Netherlands.

If you are interested in the topic and want to find out more, Fish also wrote a great book in 2006 entitled Heterosexism in health and social care, which you might want to check out.

What are your experiences with health practitioners and cancer screening in particular? And what's your opinion about these research findings? Are there any other research topics would you like to see discussed in future columns? Leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

This post was first published on eurout.

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