It’s a hard knock life for LGBT community members in Europe, even if coming out of the closet seems to not be such a grim alternative anymore, it’s not an easy, accepted or discrimination-free world we’re entering into. Now after the recent vote in Ireland, to legalize same-sex marriages, the chances for a discrimination-free world, have increased.

It’s been 28 years since Margaret Thatcher stood in from of the Conservative Party Conference saying that all kids that are taught they have a right to be gay are being ‘cheated’ of their ‘sound start in life’.  The government acted on it and the first anti-gay legislation was passed. It was the first legislation of this sort in 100 years. The entire continent embraced this context.

Surely, the world has changed greatly in these past 28 years, most of the European countries having renounced the law against homosexuality. However not having anti-homosexual laws per-say – means having oppressive laws that fight “propaganda of homosexuality” – as in Russia or Lithuania, which are even worse because they literally prohibit any mention of homosexuality in the presence of minors. So, what are doctors/medical staff expected to do, if there is a minor in a hospital hall room while they discuss a LGBT cancer patient?

I’m sure ‘ the Iron lady’ didn’t really envision that her choice of words influenced millions and made it unbearable for sick members of the gay community in Europe to receive treatment or counseling. It’s a known fact that LGBT cancer patients have a higher mortality rate than straight cancer patients throughout the continent.

Another aspect that ms. Thatcher didn’t consider is that her ‘people’ will have to face an actual victim count in less than 15 years from the day she held that speech. The ONS (Office of National Statistics, published 2009) reports show that the UK has, the fifth highest death rate for cancer women patients. In second place comes Ireland. The numbers are these: 26.8 deaths/100.000 inhabitants. Unfortunately, the UK, nor Ireland, has no relevant statistic on how many lesbian or bisexual female cancer patients there are.

Facts are, according to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer report from 2009 that: ‘lesbians may be at a slightly increased risk of breast cancer as compared to non-lesbians’. Prior studies have indicated that ‘lesbians has a significantly higher five-year and lifetime risk for developing breast cancer’ (Dibble et al, 2004).

There are no conclusive reports, indicating how many LGBT patients are being mistreated, denied treatment or treated inappropriately, but the internet is booming with articles, forums, themed blogs and websites pointing the finger at what is not being done for LGBT cancer patients.

There are several factors that we LGBT patients should discuss with our doctors, early on.

BREAST CANCER

Don’t be put off.  Lesbian women have higher risk factors for breast cancer and have less screening opportunities than heterosexual women. And, our diagnosis tend to be of a higher grade than those for straight women.

ANXIETY and DEPRESSION

Lesbian women experience chronic stress…a lot of it. This stress is worse for women who need to hide their sexual orientation or for those lesbians who have lost an important emotional support. Living with this stress can cause depression and anxiety. The question of ‘Coming Out’ is a delicate issue but it’s the best possible response against ‘Minority Stress’ also called ‘introverted Homophobia’ and against the Depression and Anxiety.

BLOOD RELATED CANCER AND OTHER DISEASES

Smoking and obesity are the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease in our lesbian community.

All women, but, particularly we, need annual exams to control blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and other risk factors.

GENITALIA CANCER

Lesbians have a higher risk of getting certain types of cancer in the genital areas than heterosexual women. We need to have regular pelvic exams and PAP tests to find tumors in the early stages and have the best chance of cure.

FITNESS

Research shows that lesbian women suffer more often overweight or obese are just, compared to heterosexual women. True in the ‘States,’ ture here in Europe. Obesity is a factor of high cardiovascular risk, cancer and premature death. Lesbians need competent support and emotional support to eat in a healthy way and change the style of life in order to increase their health, especially doing exercise,.

There are also anorexic lesbians, so talk  to your doctor about the relationship between your eating behavior and cancer.

TOBACCO

The research, shows that in fact, lesbian women smoke a lot more than heterosexuals and become addicted much more easily. One reason is the chronic social stress, the other is that smoking is a way to find a social life than in other environments is otherwise denied. Smoking, is associated with higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease and chronic emphysema, which are the three leading causes of death for women

ALCOHOLISM

Drinking too much or compulsively is more common among in our community than among heterosexuals, although most reports about this relies on research conducted in the US rather than the EU.  High consumption of alcohol leads to an increased risk of cancer and other liver diseases.

ADDICTION

Lesbians abuse drugs more often than heterosexual women. Sexism, discrimination and homophobia are considered factors risk related factors. The need for inclusive policies and designated support groups is vital for LGBT patients in order to ensure well-being and reduce family, social and work related stress.

VIOLENCE by PARTNER

Some lesbians  experience violence at the hands of partners and lovers. Doctors and social workers rarely ask about abuse, even in the face of scars and black and blue marks, when they know or imagine that their patient is lesbian.  It may be tough, but you have to speak up and explore how domestic violence will affect the course of you undergoing cancer treatment.

 

My Thoughts
Unfortunately, my personal experience is that doctors or healthcare workers, simply ignore, in most cases that, the patients in front of them, might be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

In fact they will never know precisely, mainly because hospital data collection and medical history does not provide for the noting a persons sexual identity.

 

After the recent Irish gay vote, there where many controversial reactions throughout the continent and also from the Vatican. Second in command in the Vatican, cardinal Pietro Parolin, declared he was “deeply saddened by the result” and that “The church must take account of this reality, but in the sense that it must strengthen its commitment to evangelization. I think that you cannot just talk of a defeat for Christian principles, but of a defeat for humanity.”

However, the astonishing 62% percent of voters, in favor of changing the Irish constitution, turned Ireland into the first country to legalize gay marriage and brought hope back on the European horizon.  It’s up to us, individually, to force change as patients in the consulting room.