LGBTQ individuals face unique challenges within the healthcare system that can cause poorer mental and physical health because of lack of specialized care. Many doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers have not had sufficient training to understand the specific health experiences of the LGBTQ community.
LGBTQ communities are also less likely to get screened than heterosexual non-trans individuals (via Get Screened). This means that the LGBTQ community experiences a higher risk of dying from these cancers because the cancer is often caught in later stages due to lack of screening.
When seeking treatment for cancer, it is best to make your cancer care team aware of your gender identity, sexual orientation and your transition. Discussing your use of hormone replacement therapies and the details of your transition allows your health care providers to offer you the most comprehensive and informed treatment choices (via Living Beyond Breast Cancer). Some cancers can grow in the presence of estrogen – if your doctor is aware of the use of estrogen as part of your hormone replacement therapy regimen, he or she can give you more information about how treatment may impact HRT.
Although “cancer doesn’t discriminate”, the healthcare system often does (cancer.org) – it is difficult to find information that speak to LGBTQ realities.
There can be barriers to optimal health for the LGBTQ community such as:
- Fear of negative reactions from their doctors if they disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity
- Doctors’ lack of understanding of the LGBTQ community and their health care needs
- The patient may avoid the health system entirely because of negative past experiences with health care providers
Healthcare providers can do a great deal to eliminate these barriers by creating a welcoming, culturally competent, sensitive and educated environment for LGBTQ clients and their families. This requires (via Get Screened):
- Understanding cancer screening information and considerations for LGBTQ clients
- Staff training and education
- Creating a welcoming physical and administrative environment for LGBTQ clients and their families
It is difficult to find health information that speaks to the LGBTQ community. Everyone deserves quality health care, but as an LGBT with cancer, you may feel that there aren’t many resources out there that are suited for you.
Here are some tips for finding a safe and inclusive healthcare provider:
- Asking other transgender or queer individuals about their healthcare providers or check local LGBTQ newspapers
- Check out the office space of potential providers for an indication of whether or not they are trans and queer friendly
- Listen for how the provider talks with you: do they allow you to voice your concerns in a non-judgemental and understanding manner? Do they have a good comprehension of LGTBQ health concerns?
- Come out to your doctor only if you feel safe
Please refer to the resources below for more information on finding the best health care provider, coming out to your health care provider and LGBTQ online and in-person support groups.
LGBTQ Resources and Information
Get Screened The Canadian Cancer Society’s network for LGBTQ communities in Hamilton, Ottawa and Toronto. Get Screened aims to increase colon, breast and cervical cancer screening rates among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) communities.
Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre A list of LGBTQ cancer networks, groups, books, caregiver education, and information.
Rainbow Health Ontario a province-wide program working to improve access to services and promote the health of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) communities.
Cancer Facts for Lesbians and Bisexual Women A Printable educative PDF booklet for Lesbian and Bisexual Women with Cancer compiled by the American Cancer Society.
Human Rights Campaign Information and tips about coming out to your doctor and/or health care providers.
Making Us Visible An online resource for starting a breast cancer support group for lesbian and bisexual women in your area.
Cancer’s Margins This arts and community-based LGBTQ research project explores sexual and gender diversity, experiences of breast and gynecologic cancer health, support/care, and the ways we locate and share cancer health knowledge.
National LGBT Cancer Network The National LGBT Cancer Network works to improve the lives of LGBT cancer survivors and those at risk by educating, training and advocating.