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Thursday 10 November 2016

Ask our expert: Cervical smears

Posted in: Ask Our Expert, Health & HIV
By staff - 21st October 2014

A woman asks: “I have been told that because I only sleep with women that I don’t need to get regular smears, is this true?”

National Cervical Screening Programme Clinical Leader Dr Hazel Lewis responds:

The Ministry of Health advises that all women who have ever been sexually active - including lesbian women - should have regular cervical smear tests from the time they turn 20 until they turn 70.

Our advice on cervical screening for lesbian women is no different to that for other women who have ever been sexually active, because we now know that cervical cancer is caused by certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) transmitted from person to person in many ways - most commonly by genital to genital contact (but also genital-anal, oral-genital, oral-oral and manual-genital). It can also be transmitted by non-sexual means (such as from mother to foetus or newborn, or via fomites - underwear or gloves). Most individuals are unaware they are infected and may unknowingly spread the virus. All men and women are susceptible to HPV, and about 80% of sexually active men and women will acquire an HPV infection before the age of 50 years.

Most HPV infections have no symptoms and nearly all women (especially those under 30 years) will clear it in 6-24 months without even knowing they had it. Some women will not clear their HPV infection and may develop abnormal cells on their cervix. If abnormal cells occur and go undetected and untreated they can progress to cervical cancer. Research shows that lesbian women do develop cervical abnormalities and so need to have regular smears.

   Bookmark and Share staff - 21st October 2014