Climbing Toward the Summit – How to Navigate LGBT Cancer Survivorship

Learning that your diagnosis is cancer can produce a feeling akin to being struck by a tornado. LGBT cancer survivors have issues that differ from ‘straight’ individuals, but this difference is not acknowledged by the healthcare realm. Likewise, the lack of recognition of the specific obstacles faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender cancer survivors can make the medical journey ahead feel even more overwhelming. Yet, taking the steps necessary for you to either ‘beat’ or manage your disease can empower you. Meanwhile, educating others about LGBT cancer survivor issues can enable you to feel less alone in a heterosexually-oriented healthcare system.

There are approximately one million LGBT cancer survivors in the United States, so you have a lot of company. While cancer disproportionately affects the LGBT community, healthcare providers of LGBT patients tend to focus on prevention and early detection of sexually transmitted diseases (e.g., HIV infection) and substance abuse, rather than cancer, due to the research emphasis on these LGBT healthcare issues. In a study published in Cancer (the journal of the American Cancer Society) in 2011, cancer prevalence in gay men was around twice that of bisexual and heterosexual men. Meanwhile, lesbian cancer survivors reported an overall lower quality of health as compared to heterosexual women [1].

Notably, the website of the National Women’s Law Center cites a study revealing that 8 percent of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals (and 27 percent of transgendered persons) reported that they experienced denial of medical care for a discriminatory reason[2]. Thus, the need clearly exists for healthcare practitioners to understand the particular obstacles faced by LGBT people in getting appropriate care as related to cancer.

In this section of our website, The National LGBT Cancer Project presents issues commonly faced by cancer survivors, but with a focus on the LGBT experience. Hopefully, you can use this to enable your healthcare providers who are ‘straight’ (as well as your ‘straight’ friends and colleagues) to better understand how being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender with a cancer diagnosis is an experience encompassing aspects not faced by heterosexual cancer survivors.

[1]Boehmer U, Miao X, and Ozonoff A. (2011). Cancer Survivorship and Sexual Orientation. Cancer 117:3796–3804. Webpage: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.25950/epdf

[2]National Women’s Law Center. (May 21, 2014). Health Care Refusals Harm Patients: The Threat to LGBT People and Individuals Living with HIV/AIDS. Webpage: http://www.nwlc.org/resource/health-care-refusals-harm-patients-threat-lgbt-people-and-individuals-living-hivaids