The breast cancer information page was deleted from the US government’s health site in December and has not been replaced, a new report has revealed.
The page, which also featured reproductive health resources for low-income women, was pulled from Womenshealth.gov on December 6, 2017, and the link remains defunct, according to an investigation by watchdog the Sunlight Foundation.
The news comes days after it emerged all lesbian and bisexual health resources were scrubbed from the HHS site in September 2017.
An HHS spokesman defended the loss of the breast cancer page saying the content ‘was not mobile-friendly and very rarely used’, adding that they felt the low page views suggested it may be ‘redundant information’.
Women’s health advocates have slammed the explanation as a ‘poor excuse’.
This is what the breast cancer page looked like before it was deleted on December 6, 2017
A number of results come up when ‘breast cancer’ is typed into the search function, but the main link circles back to the homepage of the whole site.
While mammogram information remains on the site, there are no longer ‘informational pages and factsheets about the disease’, Sunlight found.
Those factsheets included symptoms, treatment, and risk factors.
Crucially, it showed users where they could get no- or low-cost cancer screening from the CDC, and featured information about how the Affordable Care Act covers breast cancer screenings for certain women.
‘The office did not proactively announce or explain the removals,’ Sunlight’s investigator Jon Campbell said in the report.
The HHS spokesman insists the removal came after an audit found the information was ‘rarely’ viewed and repeated information on other health sites.
Last week, the same team published another report showing resources for lesbian and bisexual Americans have been stripped from the website.
The page which once contained substantial information about lesbian and bisexual health, and all external links, quietly disappeared from the Health and Human Services website in September 2017, and is still down six months later.
What’s more, the subhead of ‘lesbian and bisexual health’ has been removed from the drop-down menu.
Although the section was long overdue an update, with the last edit made in 2012, public health advocates say it was a crucial platform providing some assistance to a largely under-served community.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans have poorer heart health, higher suicide risks, and higher rates of obesity and smoking than heterosexuals.
It is a bleak reality that experts attribute to deep-rooted discrimination in the US healthcare system, making it harder to get insurance, rarer to be treated with dignity, and more difficult to access relevant resources if the patient is not heterosexual.
The defunct webpage was once a source analyzing the specific health risk factors for lesbian and bisexual women, and the challenges they face in the healthcare system.
There was no announcement that it had disappeared from the HHS website but some people started to report it.
Eventually researchers at the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit government watchdog group, sought to investigate what happened to the page, a subset of the HHS Women’s Health site, which receives 700,000 views a month.
They found, as expected, the link now leads to a ‘page not found’ error page, and there was no mention of a ‘lesbian and bisexual health’ page on the site.
The HHS claims the page has been removed momentarily so it can be updated to provide the most up-to-date information for citizens.
This is what users are met with now if they try to find lesbian and bisexual resources on the HHS Women’s Health website
But Tanekwah Hinds, women’s health program coordinator at Fenway Health, of Harvard-affiliate National LGBT Health Education Center, says that removing the information wholesale, and for so long, is such a stark move it smacks of discrimination.
‘It continues to deprive the community of culturally competent resources,’ she told Daily Mail Online.
‘For the LGBT community, it’s often not information you can easily find. Oftentimes you have to look online for those resources. Removing it from there just reinforces the discrimination that is already coming at this community from all angles.
‘It’s already coming from family, society, oftentimes healthcare providers. So, coming from the government, it’s just a continuation of how this administration has treated this community.’
Hinds explains that lesbians and bisexual women, in particular, are between a rock and a hard place, facing discrimination in terms of gender as well as sexual orientation. This group also includes transgender people, who are subject to yet more forms of abuse.
‘They are more struggling to find community and acceptance in work places, at home… and this creates health disparities.’
Equally enraged, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) hit back at the HHS’s response with a strongly-worded statement:
‘The erasure of lesbian and bisexual health content from WomensHealth.gov is tantamount to discrimination against a vulnerable population that already suffers significant health disparities and discrimination in healthcare,’ the group’s president Gal Mayer, MD, MS, said in a statement.
‘In removing these resources, HHS restricts the ability of sexual minority women to access critical information designed to help them improve their health outcomes and get the quality care they deserve.’
Dr Mayer added that it follows other measures taken by the Trump-lead HHS to ‘dismantle LGBTQ health initiatives over the past year’, and called on health professionals to fight back against the changes.