Posts distort recommendations for trans women's cancer screenings
An article and social media posts claim the Canadian Cancer Society encouraged people without cervixes to get cervical cancer screenings. This is false; the charity recommended transgender women consider all appropriate examinations, as medical professionals say risks can change after gender-affirming surgery.
"BREAKING: Cancer society recommends that trans women get screened for cervical cancer for their non existent cervix," says a March 15, 2023 tweet sharing an article from a "feminist news and opinion website."
The March 15 article, which also circulated on Facebook and Reddit, features a screenshot from the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) website.
"As a trans woman, do I need to get screened for cervical cancer?" says text in the screenshot, which includes a photo of a person encouraging early cancer testing.
Screenshots of the tweet spread on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and in posts that did not reference the article.
The images crop out the charity's response to the question: "If you're a trans woman and have not had bottom surgery, you aren't at risk for cervical cancer."
The CCS website mentions Pap tests, a cervical screening method for detecting early cell changes that can lead to cancer -- but it does not go on to recommend them to transgender women.
The organization does advise transgender women who have had bottom surgery to consult with their doctor about individual cancer risks and what types of screenings they should get.
"The earlier a cancer is found, the better the treatment options and outcomes will be," said Sandra Krueckl, vice president of mission, information and support services at CCS, in a March 22 email.
A vaginoplasty cannot replicate the cellular structure of a cervix, according to Cancer Research UK. But the tissue comprising the neo-cervix and neo-vagina still has a small cancer risk.
Catherine Flood, a urogynecologist at the University of Alberta, said people who have had bottom surgery do not need to get Pap tests.
She does recommend transgender women and anyone who was not immunized against human papillomavirus (HPV) receive the vaccine, as this infection can lead to many different kinds of cancers. If a transgender woman was "seen as male when they were younger" they may have missed the shot because it was initially only offered to girls in Canada, she said in a March 25 email.
Eduardo Franco, director of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology at McGill University, said transgender people's cancer risks depend on the sex they were assigned at birth and whether they have had gender-affirming surgery. He said while people who have had vaginoplasty are at risk for vaginal cancer, anyone born with a prostate is at risk for prostate cancer.
"As trans women and trans men become more prevalent in the population, we need to be thinking about communicating cancer risks to individuals to fit their situation," Franco said.
Availability of women's healthcare
Other online posts falsely claim the CCS recommendations would take resources away from women's health services.
Franco said widespread vaccination against HPV and screenings have significantly lowered the risk of developing cervical cancer in Canada. He said the impact of transgender women getting cancer screenings of any kind would be negligible.
"Women aged 25 to 69 years old is a huge portion of the population," he said. "The small proportion of trans women in relation to that is insignificant."
Census data from 2021 indicate 31,555 Canadians identify as transgender women.
Anti-LGBTQ protests have been on the rise in Canada over the past four years, according to Statistics Canada and the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
More of AFP's reporting on misinformation about LGBTQ issues can be found here.
March 28, 2023 Paragraph 18 of this story was corrected to say 31,555 is the number of Canadians who identify as transgender women.