NHS ‘ditches women’ from cancer guidance

The NHS has come under fire for sidelining words such as ‘women’ and ‘female’ from online guidance on cancer.

Web content addressing ovarian, womb, and cervical cancer has been rewritten in gender-neutral language, prompting accusations that it is an attempt to ‘erase women’.

Previously stating that ovarian cancer is “one of the most common types of cancer in women”, the website now claims that “anyone with ovaries can get ovarian cancer, but it mostly affects those over 50”. The word ‘women’ is still used in a list alongside “trans men” and “non-binary people”.

‘Sex matters’

Dr Karleen Gribble, a Nursing and Midwifery lecturer at Western Sydney University, said the desexing of language is “making communications less clear and when it comes to critical health issues that has great potential to place the health and wellbeing of individuals at risk”.

She explained that those who are less literate, such as those whose first language is not English, may not understand if the health advice is for them.

great potential to place the health and wellbeing of individuals at risk

Speaking to Sky News, Sajid Javid said that he is investigating the issue. He commented: “You won’t be surprised to know that, as the Health Secretary, I think that your sex matters, your biological sex is incredibly important to make sure you get the right treatment, the very best treatment.”

In its editorial, The Times warned that “it is high time the NHS woke up to the anger and confusion this is causing”.


Earlier this year, it was reported that an NHS Trust was asking men as well as women if they were pregnant, before they underwent radiotherapy or had an MRI scan.

The Daily Telegraph stated that The Walton Centre in Liverpool was among a small number of NHS Trusts to adopt “a ‘gender neutral’ approach”.

In 2017, the Department of Health updated legislation for professionals working in the field, replacing references to “females of childbearing age” with “individuals of childbearing potential”.

Also see:

BBC News backtracks on ‘assigned female at birth’ instead of ‘women’ after pushback

Tampax blasted for saying men can have periods

Govt: ‘Women should not be erased from public language’

Related Resources