LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week: Cancer Screenings

Latest News, Screening, Topics, What You Should Know

March 21-25 is LGBTQ Health Awareness Week. This week raises awareness about the unique and important health needs of LGBTQ individuals and seeks to educate and advocate for these needs. 

Many members of the LGBTQ community are hesitant when seeking health care for fear of being judged or discriminated against. Because of this fear, these individuals are missing important health screenings, including cancer screenings. Cancer is most treatable in its early stages, so getting those recommended screenings regularly could be lifesaving.

No matter how you identify, it is important to take care of your health. Getting the preventive screenings that are right for you gives you the best chance to stay healthy. The following cancer screening recommendations are a good place to start.

Cervical Cancer Screening
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends cervical cancer screening for all individuals with a cervix age 21 to 65 regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation or hormone status. Screening should begin at age 21, regardless of when sexual activity starts or the gender of sexual partners. 

Cervical cancer most often occurs in people who have been exposed to human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV can be passed through skin-to-skin contact, such as through sexual activity.

The frequency of and tests used for cervical cancer screening depend on the individual’s age and health history:

Individuals with a cervix who are 21 to 29 should have a Pap test alone every three years. HPV testing alone can be considered for individuals who are 25 to 29 and may be a more comfortable option for some people.
Individuals who are 30 to 65 have three options for testing:
1. A Pap test and an HPV test (co-testing) every five years. 
2. A Pap test alone every three years. 
3. Or HPV testing alone every five years.
Screening guidelines may change based on previous test results or medical history.

The HPV vaccine can reduce the risk of certain cancers, including cervical cancer.

Vaccination works best when it is done before a person is sexually active and exposed to HPV but can still reduce risk even after a person is sexually active. 

The HPV vaccination can be given to any individual starting at age nine and through age 26. Individuals who are at risk for new HPV infection and have not been previously vaccinated can still be vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is approved for people through age 45.

Breast Cancer Screening
Any individual with breasts regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation is at risk of developing breast cancer and should undergo breast cancer screening. Mammography is the primary tool used to screen for breast cancer. 

The American Cancer Society recommends the following guidelines for breast cancer screening for individuals at average risk:

Individuals ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with a mammogram if they wish to do so.
Individuals ages 45 to 54 should have a mammogram every year.
Individuals 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every two years or can continue to get a yearly mammogram.
Screening should continue as long as a person is in good health and is expected to live at least 10 more years.

Breast cancer screening recommendations may change based on medical or family history. Breast cancer risk may be increased due to several factors including:

Family history of breast or other kinds of cancer
Medical conditions such as obesity
Tobacco use
Certain kinds of menopausal hormone medications
Having never had a pregnancy or breast fed