By Dr. Kevin Wang
The topic that I want to discuss this month is lesbian health. Contrary to gay men’s health, I have absolutely no personal experience in this topic. So during the time that I’ve been writing about Hepatitis, I did a bit of research on lesbian health – just to remind the lesbian community that I haven’t neglected them. I just had to do some research before I wrote about it.
First thing’s first. When a lesbian (or gay, bisexual or transgender) person finds a physician she or he likes, it’s important to be open and honest about your sexual orientation (as well as your other habits like exercise, diet, drug use, etc.). It’s just as important, however, to find a physician who is open-minded and knowledgeable about the LGBT community – so shopping around may be essential. I mentioned this in my first article so check online to go over a few things: https://www.pridesource.com/article.shtml?article=9848.
Now that we talked about basics, let’s talk about lesbian health.
According to some articles I’ve read, lesbians face unique obstacles in the health care system. As I’ve experienced myself in my training, we don’t get much education on how to properly interview the LGBT patient. Some physicians still feel uncomfortable with the whole idea that we even exist. As a result, the LGBT patient may be nervous about the physician’s reaction or lack of knowledge about issues important to the LGBT patient. Other reasons why LGBT patients won’t see a physician are because of lack of same-sex benefits or the perception that, at least in the lesbian community, there’s a lower risk of getting STDs or some types of cancer.
Let’s tackle these obstacles one by one.
Like I mentioned before, we don’t get much in the way of education when it comes to the LGBT community. We might get a few lectures here and there but nothing really in detail. What’s my advice here? You can go to the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association’s web site (www.glma.org) or look in the Pride Source guide (www.pridesource.com) and see if there’s an LGBT-friendly physician in your area or you can simply doctor-shop. Do not compromise your health just because it’s the first name you picked from your insurance handbook. Find a doctor that you’re comfortable with and who’s comfortable with you.
Common sense, so far!
The first procedure that I’ll talk about is the pap smear. For reasons that I am still unaware of, research has shown that lesbians don’t get their annual pap smears as often as their heterosexual counterparts. The pap smear, in case you don’t know, checks for any changes on the surface of your cervix, essentially looking for any signs of cervical cancer. The findings range from normal to high risk with lots of steps in between. One main factor in developing cervical cancer is HPV, the same virus that results in genital warts.
In school, I was taught that your risk of developing cervical cancer increases with unsafe sex and promiscuity – usually with men. What about lesbian women, you ask? Physicians and patients alike assume that lesbian women are at a lower risk since there is no contact with men. Unfortunately, there have been many cases where HPV and cervical cancer have been reported in lesbians – regardless of sexual contact with men. HPV may spread by oral-genital, genital-genital and toy-genital contact. And remember, HPV is one risk factor. There are others that we’re still discovering.
So what can you do to detect cervical cancer early? Go find a doctor (or make an appointment with your current PCP) and get an annual GYN exam. The pap smear is the one screening tool that has saved many lives by detecting cervical cancer in its early stages. Don’t let this opportunity to save your life pass you by!
It seems that I’ve run out of room again. I simply just talk too much! But this is a topic that I want to discuss with my lesbian audience (wow, I’ve never said that before) and it’s just as important for me as I want to serve the LGBT community.
If you have any questions or have input or additional advice, please feel free to contact me at the e-mail address below. Remember, I’m here to answer your questions and advise our community! Stay healthy!