Cancer Research UK has sparked controversy by removing the word “woman” from its latest cervical cancer campaign.
The public health campaign, hoping to improve cervical screening rates in England where they have fallen to a 20-year low, now encourages “anyone with a cervix” to get tested, in an effort to be more inclusive of transgender people.
A tweet promoting the campaign said: “Cervical screening (or the smear test) is relevant for everyone aged 25-64 with a cervix. Watch our animation to find out what to expect when you go for screening.”
Previously the charity urged women aged between 25 and 64 to get tested, but a spokesperson for the charity confirmed the change was intentional.
Laurence Webb, a manager for the LGBT Foundation said the charity “absolutely welcomed” the decision.
He told HuffPost UK: “One of the common issues for transgender people is that they often get left out of routine cancer screening programmes. We know that despite having higher risk factors for cancer compared to the rest of the population, trans people are much less likely to access routine screening services.”
In 2017, Public Health England released new guidance for trans and non-binary people after finding that they often either do not know which screening programmes they are eligible for, or are not invited for screening because of the gender they are registered as with their GP.
However, on social media some were angered by the decision to remove the word “woman” with some threatening to no longer donate to the charity.
One said: “Hi cancer research. People with a cervix are called women. Please stop erasing us. Thanks.”
Anne Spiller, a practice nurse at a GP surgery in northwest England, tweeted: “The problem is a lot of women do not even know about their cervix. They may think that they do not have one of those reading that and not bother. I speak as a nurse who does smears.”
Fiona Osgun from Cancer Research UK defended the decision to update the wording used, which coincided with cervical screening awareness week, which began on Monday.
She said: “Cervical cancer develops in anyone who has a cervix. This includes women as well as people with other gender identities such as trans men. But screening might not be relevant for all women such as those who have had a full hysterectomy.”
The new wording was phrased to reflect this, she added.
Research by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found that while 5 million people are invited to attend a screening each year in the UK, one in four does not attend.
Kate Sanger, head of communications for the charity, said the charity had thought a lot about access and inclusivity in the run up to Cervical Screening Awareness Week, which began on Monday, and chosen to use “women and anyone with a cervix” in their campaigns.
She said: “We didn’t remove the word woman because the majority of people with a cervix do identify as women but there are already so many barriers to getting screened so it was important for us to try and remove those barriers.
“Trans people, or those who don’t identify as being a woman, need to know that cervical screening is for them, especially as there are a lot of myths about who needs to be screened and not.”
Echoing Spiller, she said their research and shows that a lot of people do not know what a cervix is so keeping the word woman was also important.
She said: “People are often only aware of it when something is wrong with it so it’s important to get the clearest and simplest message across to encourage people to see it as a relevant test to them.”