Let’s talk about bums

bumsI had a lucky escape during the last few months. I went into hospital for a routine procedure and came out feeling remarkably well. I’d had a raft of tests in the lead up to the operation and, apart from a humongously large fibroid, everything seemed to be as it should be.

A few days after the operation a resident from the hospital called. In a stammering voice he said, “Ummm, I’ve just been going through your pathology report and, ummm, errrr, well … it’s Friday and I thought you should know that …. ummm, the pathology found a malignant tumour. We’re all pretty shocked here. There were no indications prior to your surgery and we’re pretty sure we took it all out but … ummm, we’re going to have to get you back to check because … errr, we didn’t know it was there.”

Long story short, I went in for another surgery to have more bits removed and I’ve now been pretty much cleared. I’m incredibly lucky. There was no indication that I had cancer, i had no symptoms, and if I hadn’t, coincidentally, had to have an operation for something different (but in the same location) I may not have known until it was too late.

Now, tests missed my cancer but, generally, they’re pretty good at picking them up. I make sure to have regular mammograms, pap smears and colonoscopies. The former two are made easier because they are covered by Medicare. The colonoscopy costs a bloody fortune but then, I weigh up, “A couple of hundred bucks versus bowel cancer” and somehow the “couple of hundred bucks” seems rather less important. I’m lucky I have the money. I’m sure there are many who don’t have vital tests because they simply can’t afford them.

Which brings me to the subject of this post – bums –  anuses to be precise. Icky for some, lovely for others but, we’ve all got one and like all of our other ‘bits’ they’re prone to cancer too.

My friend, Rod Swift of Melbourne’s gay and lesbian radio station, Joy 94.9 FM, tells me that while the Australian government provides Medicare funding for women to have pap smears to guard against cervical cancer (caused by the human papillomavirus – HPV) they don’t fund anal smears for men or women who have anal sex to protect against anal cancer (caused by the same virus).

This makes no sense. As Rod says, “Alarmingly, the rate of cancer among gay men is even higher than the rates of cervical cancer among women.”

I find this shocking – particularly as my own, very recent, personal experience shows, early detection of cancer is critical.

Rod has started a petition asking Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek to add anal pap smears for HPV to the Medicare Benefits Schedule and to promote their availablilty and necessity to men who have sex with men – the highest risk group.

In addition, says Rod, the Federal Government should fund a catch-up program for males to get the Gardasil vaccination which protects against contracting HPV. I had the great good fortune to meet and chat with Professor Ian Frazer, the developer of the Gardasil vaccine, at an event at Embiggen Books when the shop was still up here in the ‘deep north’. Frazer is passionate about making the Gardasil vaccine widely available and, here in Australia, it is now available to both teenage girls and boys. That’s a great initiative, but every effort needs to be made to broaden protection for the gay/men who have sex with men community in general.

At a time when we are so actively fighting for marriage equality, surely it’s only fair that the government provide health equality as well.

You can help by signing Rod’s petition. I have.

Chrys Stevenson

5 thoughts on “Let’s talk about bums

  1. Glenn Watson

    There is action on this cancer in New South Wales. There is a long-term study called SPANC (Study for the Prevention of ANal Cancer) in which I’ve been participating for the last two years. It has recently received funding to extend for another three years. They have found that about 1/3 of their gay male participants – including me – have high-grade abnormalities which are greatest risk of developing tumours and they are tracking the development of this with annual pap smears, swabs and biopsies (ouch). There isn’t much statistical information and I’m told that as I don’t smoke and I’m HIV-negative, I’m one of those they’re most interested in. I regard this study as a wonderful personal benefit because as anal cancers are relatively slow-growing, an annual check is regarded as early detection. This study is leading the world in this relatively new area of research. http://www.spanc.org.au

    And I agree with you Chrys – all young gay men should have the Gardasil vaccine. It’s too late for anyone with the HPV to be vaccinated. Whether it’s government-subsidised or not, not being vaccinated against anything like HPV, Hepatitis A & B etc. doesn’t make sense.

  2. David Fisher

    Until I came to Australia a bum was a lazy generally unshaven good-for-nothing who avoided work.I had only encountered ‘bum’ as a designation for the nether regions in Victorian pornography and thought of it as a very naughty word. I don’t I will ever get used to the word used in casual conversation to describe a body part. Nevertheless I will sign the petition.

  3. Team Oyeniyi

    Chrys, so very glad to hear you were so lucky!

    I agree with you – preventative tests should be covered by Medicare. It costs a lot more to care for an ill patient, I am sure, so just the cost benefit analysis must weigh up for the powers that be.

    By the way, a received a lovely present, and will post a pic as soon as I find a spare hour of ME time to paint! 😀

    David, where are you from? Although I agree, in New Zealand (and I believe here) ‘bum’ also has that meaning. We are nothing if not good at using one word for a myriad of different meanings!

  4. Damian Coburn

    A link that may be of use to the proponents. Potentially more useful than a petition.


    This may also be worth a look:


    The guts (excuse the pun) of the WHO info is that just because there is a disease and a test, doesn’t mean that screening is a good thing. I don’t mean to denigrate the importance of this issue, but to say that as with any health issue a rational and evidence-based approach needs to be taken to it. There is something of a consensus among public health experts, for example, that prostate screening does at least as much harm as good (and some public health experts would smack me on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper for making that point so mildly). Prostate cancer has a much higher incidence than anal cancer among gay men (and higher than HIV positive gay men, the highest identified risk group, I gather); it doesn’t follow from high incidence alone that screening is ipso facto a good thing.

    One may hope that studies like SPANC, as Glenn mentions, will add valuable data on the issue.


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