Cancer Research UK: losing the word woman means losing women’s lives


Cervical screening rates have fallen to a 20-year low in England. Five million women are invited to screening each year in the UK yet one in four does not attend. Every year more than 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 890 die.

However, Cancer Research UK has dropped the word “woman” from its latest public health campaign against cervical cancer in an effort to be more inclusive of transgender people.

The charity’s latest message for cervical screening awareness week encourages “everyone aged 25-64 with a cervix” to go for their smear test, with no mention of women at all.

The charity confirmed that the words had been chosen deliberately so as not to exclude those who are biologically female but identify as men.













What about the risk of alienating women who may already be reluctant to have the potentially life-saving test?

What about the women who won’t necessarily know that they are ‘people with a cervix’ and so might not come forward?

Cancer Research has accepted losing responses from women, that will impact lives and health, as collateral damage for protecting the feelings of the transgender community.

Yesterday Paula, a mother of two young children, saw the Cancer Research campaign. This morning she wrote this:


My mum was born in 1950, failed her 11 plus and went to work in a lampshade factory age 14.

By the time I was about 6 I used to spell out my school absent notes for her.

With hindsight, I suppose she was dyslexic but, well, that definitely wasn’t a term she would’ve been familiar with.

She had enough trouble writing ‘stomach ache’ without me there to help.

I can’t say for sure if she’d have realised ‘people with a cervix’ was aimed at her or not.

I’d ask her, but I can’t.

She’s dead.

My mum died at 54 of what her own mum would’ve cheerfully referred to as ‘women’s problems’.

If only my mum had had enough brains to realise all those stomach aches were her cancerous ovaries killing her from the inside.

So, if some of y’all ‘can’t see the problem’ with Cancer Research UK’s new wording, please take a moment to think of my mum, and how I once stood in a hospital room, alone but for the nurse holding me upright, so that I could hold her unconscious hand and wait until she died.

It took about an hour.

And please take a moment to think about how I’ve been a motherless daughter since my 20s.

Maybe if we all take a moment to think about women like my mum, women who don’t have the cognitive or language abilities that we do, maybe cancers will be caught earlier, and maybe lives will be saved.

This is why being able to talk about our female bodies, in clear, non academic language matters.

This is why being able to request a female-bodied person for an intimate medical examination matters.

And this is why women like me, sometimes, want to spend time with other women like me. Only women like me.

It’s been more than 14 years since my mother died.

I really, really, miss her.


This afternoon, an American ‘non binary’ Twitter user tweeted Cancer Research UK to declare that they would rather ‘die of cancer than be misgendered’

Shortly after reading that tweet this letter dropped onto Paula’s doormat.












Paula wrote down her thoughts once more.


The letter confirms that there is now a 50/50 chance as to whether I inherited my mother’s cancer-causing gene fault.

Those odds are based on which one of my mother’s two X chromosomes I inherited.

Same for my sister.

Same for our our biological daughters.

I read that tweet. I read my hospital letter.

I would MUCH rather be misgendered than die, horribly, painfully, of Ovarian cancer.

The prognosis was awful when my mum was diagnosed. The survival rate at five years was 1 in 5. It’s not much better now.

My mum would happily have swapped places with the Twitter person. She would’ve happily been misgendered (if she’d even known what it meant) if being misgendered would’ve allowed her to watch her grandchildren grow up. As it was, she only got to meet 2 of her 6 grandbabies. Only one can remember his ‘MarMar’.

Since the letter arrived, I have drunk an entire bottle of fizzy, pink wine to myself.

I did the school run more-than-tipsy.

The last words my mother ever said to me, before they administered the anaesthetic that she never came around from were

‘I Love You’

And as she was wheeled away from me, she shouted, ‘And I Love your Sister too’.

We’ve been warned that it’s possible that just one of us will have the gene fault. The 50/50 chance gets reset individually, it relates to our mother and not to each other.

We’ve been offered counselling to help us cope, but It seems so awfully sad that my mother, fair to the very end, might have left us to deal with the unfairest hand of all.

We cannot identify out of our biological destiny. We might be able to get in front of it, temporarily, if we are lucky, with radical, preventative surgery and a lifetime of synthetic hormones.

Still, even the removal of our ovaries won’t guarantee we won’t die of ovarian cancer. When you have an organ surgically removed, some of the organ’s cells will always remain.

So, please, excuse me for not having the energy to give a fuck about gender feels today, and please, excuse my lack of sympathy for the transplight.

You see, one day, it might be my daughter being held upright by a nurse, holding my hand.
Waiting, for her mother, me, to die.

I thought that the day my mother left me was the worst day of my life…

Now, I understand that the day I am forced to leave my daughter will be far, far worse.


Paula has kindly agreed for us to share this personal story, when asked she said to us


I think I want it to be read.

I want women to live long and satisfying lives and be healthy and happy.

I want women to treasure woman to woman relationships.

And I realise now that these things, that I once personally took for granted and later mourned, are now actually under threat for all women and girls.

If I have the opportunity to do anything constructive to preserve these things for other women and girls, I want to do it.

Proudly, and in honour of my mother and her own mother, my Nan, who died 6 weeks before my mum did.


This is the reality. Cancer Research UK have done women a huge disservice and we need to let them know.


In loving memory



3 thoughts on “Cancer Research UK: losing the word woman means losing women’s lives

  • 2018.06.28 at 12:17

    So moving. And, at the same time, enraging. Men are never women. Men cannot get ovarian cancer. And yes, plenty of women have no idea they have a cervix. The word they’re most likely to recognise is probably “womb”. But using that word would be too womanly for the trans lobby.

  • 2018.07.21 at 20:12

    My mother died of ovarian cancer, my daughter died of a uterine sarcoma. In both cases they died because they were women with ovaries and wombs.
    Men too die of sex specific cancers; but no one suggests that Cancer UK should stop encouraging MEN to check for prostate cancer. The more focussed and specific the advice to have screening the more people will be reached.
    Men c heck your testicals and prostate
    Women check your ovaries and wombs.

  • 2018.11.09 at 19:59

    Thank you for posting this. My sister and I also lost our Mum to ovarian cancer, and are now left with that lingering wonder of whether it will be us too some day. When Mum was sick she met other women sufferers her age who were still caring for sick and ageing family members, still enduring domestic violence, still worrying endlessly about their kids, still feeling upset about what the cancer had done to their looks. All the other baggage of being a woman doesn’t stop just because you have a fatal illness.

    Being a cancer sufferer is a dehumanizing experience in itself. You lose control of your life and your body; you’re depending on doctors who don’t always listen to you; other people start avoiding you or expecting you to be “brave and inspirational” instead of human. Women with cancer get the message that they have lost their “value” because they are no longer conventionally pretty or fertile. Now these women are also being told that they are not even women any more?

    We know that women from disadvantaged and non-English speaking backgrounds and women with intellectual disability have far worse health results already. Now we are deliberately using language that some of them won’t even understand, language which is ugly and alienating. What will be the results for those women?

    “I would rather die of cancer than be misgendered” are the words of a person with no life experience, no imagination, no respect for their female elders, and no care for others. My mum and those many other sick women she met would have done anything on earth to stick around for the people they loved.

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