Health checks for gay men and women

Research suggests that gay men and lesbians are less likely to have routine screening tests than heterosexuals.

Illnesses, such as cancer, can affect anyone, whether you're gay or straight.

However, some gay men and lesbians may be less likely to have screening and testing than heterosexuals. This could be because of fear of discrimination, or because they simply don't think they're at risk.

Screening and testing saves lives and are vital to detect certain conditions early, some of which, for example breast cancer, may be more common in gay people.

For more information see our articles on screening and testing.

Health checks for women

Women who have sex with women should have cervical smears every three to five years

Cervical cancer screening

Around 2,800 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. It can be prevented if it's detected early enough through regular cervical smear tests.

It's an urban myth that lesbians can't get cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is generally associated with heterosexual sex, but lesbians, although thought to be at lower risk than straight women, can still develop it.

According to a survey of more than 6,000 women by the charity Stonewall, 15% of lesbians and bisexual women have never had a cervical smear test compared with 7% of women in general.

As part of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme, all women aged between 25 and 49 are invited for screening every three years, and women aged 50-64 are invited every five years.

This programme is co-ordinated by your GP and you should receive a reminder letter when your test is due. The programme gets your details from your GP, so it's important to register with a local surgery.

For more information read our articles on preventing cervical cancer.

Breast cancer screening

According to the Stonewall survey, lesbians are more prone to breast cancer than straight women, possibly because they are less likely to have children, more likely to be overweight and more likely to drink alcohol than heterosexual women.

Over one in 12 lesbian and bisexual women aged between 50 and 79  had been diagnosed with breast cancer, compared to one in 20 of women in general, the survey found.

Yet lesbians and bisexual women are less likely to attend routine breast screening tests.

The NHS Breast Screening Programme checks 1.6 million women every year. Women aged 50-70 are automatically invited for screening every three years. While women over 70 aren't automatically invited, they're encouraged to make their own screening appointment every three years. The age range for screening will be extended to 47-73 by 2012.

For more information about breast screening, as well as how to spot any changes in your breasts, see our section on breast cancer.

Health checks for men

Sexual health checks

Gay men are at higher risk of certain sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhoea, than straight men.  

You can get a free, confidential and anonymous sexual health check from your nearest genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic.

Find your nearest GUM clinic.

HIV testing

Although HIV can affect anybody, in the UK gay men are the most commonly affected group, and the number of people with HIV continues to rise.

According to the Health Protection Agency (HPA), over a quarter (27%) of people with HIV don't know they have it.

HIV is most commonly spread through penetrative sex, and the best way to prevent it is to use a condom. If you have had unprotected sex or think you might be at risk of HIV, it's important to be tested.

You can get an HIV test from your GP or a GUM clinic.

Find your local HIV support services.

Health checks for men and women

General health checks

Gay men and women are eligible for NHS bowel cancer screening from the age of 60 and for a blood pressure check every five years or so from the age of 40 (more often if your blood pressure is raised).

Chlamydia screening

Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the UK. It affects men and women, gay or straight.

Most people who get chlamydia don't have noticeable symptoms, but if it's not treated, it can lead to serious health problems.

The National Chlamydia Screening Programme offers free testing to anyone under the age of 25. Read more about chlamydia screening for both the under- and over-25s.

Find your neares free chlamydia testing service.

For more information about sexual health and STIs, see Lesbian sexual health and Sexual health for men.

Page last reviewed: 09/06/2012

Next review due: 09/06/2014

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