The most common types of cancer among the LGBTQ+ community include skin, colon, endometrial (uterine), cervical, lung, and breast cancer. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have a greater risk of breast cancer than their heterosexual counterparts – this is not because of their sexual orientation or gender identification. The risk is linked to breast cancer risk factors that tend to be more common in these people. Examples include never having children or having them later in life, and higher rates of obesity and alcohol use (via Facts for Life: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People).
LGBTQ+ communities are also less likely to get screened than heterosexual non-trans individuals (via Get Screened). This means that the LGBTQ+ community experience a higher risk of dying from these cancers because the cancer is often caught in later stages due to lack of screening. Mammograms are the best tool for early detection of breast cancer – that’s why it’s important to get screened regularly in order to find potential abnormalities earlier, when they are the easiest to deal with.
When seeking treatment for breast 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 breast 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. Currently, there are no studies of the incidence of breast cancer in transsexual or transgender individuals (via The National LGBT Cancer Project – Out with Cancer).
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 LGBQT+ community.
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 LGBTQ+ individual with cancer, you may feel that there aren’t many resources out there that are suited for you.
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 all 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 LGBTQ+ cancer survivors and those at risk by educating, training and advocating.