Self-Swabs Are Viable HPV Screening Options For Transmasculine Patients, Study Shows

A new study on transmasculine health looks into whether the test performance of self-collected frontal/vaginal swabs is comparable to provider-collected cervical swabs in screening for high-risk human papillomavirus (hrHPV). The study, titled Test performance and acceptability of self- versus provider-collected swabs for high-risk HPV DNA testing in female-to-male trans masculine patientscollectedt data from 150 transmasculine patients between the ages of 21 and 64.

The Fenway Institute’s Dr. Sari L. Reisner, Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, served as lead author of the study and was joined by Madeline B. Deutsch, Sarah M. Peitzmeier, Jaclyn M. White Hughto, Timothy P. Cavanaugh, Dana J. Pardee, Sarah A. McLean, Lori A. Panther, Marcy Gelman, Matthew J. Mimiaga, and Jennifer E. Potter.

For transmasculine patients, provider-collected cervical swabs can be traumatic experiences. As a result, many people on the transmasculine spectrum avoid these exams, and in doing so do not receive potentially life-saving screenings for HPV and cervical cancer. Previous work has introduced the idea of self-swabs to empower patients by putting them in control of the sample taking process. For example, 2015 saw the publication of a groundbreaking guide to comprehensive cervical cancer screening and gynecological care for providers with transmasculine patients, on which The Fenway Institute’s Dr. Jennifer Potter was lead author.

In this latest study, Reisner’s team found that over 90% of transmasculine patients preferred the self-collected frontal/vaginal swab over a provider-collected cervical swab. Of the 131 participants completing both types of HPV tests, 21 cases of hrHPV were detected by the provider cervical swab, and 15 of those cases were accurately detected by the self-collected frontal/vaginal swab.

“Our study findings offer transmasculine patients with a cervix the option to self-swab for high-risk HPV,” said Dr. Reisner. “While this approach is not as accurate as a Pap test, it provides another tool for providers to consider in a harm reduction model of patient-centered care for trans and nonbinary people who need to be screened for cervical cancer.”

The study show that self-collected frontal/vaginal swabbing to test for hrHPV is a viable, patient-centered screening option for transmasculine patients.

“This study was ‘by’ and ‘for’ the transmasculine community,” said Dr. Reisner. “I am honored to have had the opportunity to collaborate with my community on this project, and proud that Fenway health lead this effort.”

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