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Cancer in the LGBT Community

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is often devastating. This is particularly true for the deadliest cancers like mesothelioma, a cancer affecting the lining of the lungs. Everyone is vulnerable to developing cancer, but certain populations have additional risk factors, including the LGBT community. Gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women carry several more risks for cancer. From increased smoking, a risk factor for mesothelioma, to less frequent cancer screenings, members of the LGBT community need to be aware of these risk factors to make good health choices. 

Risk Factors for Cancer Affect Everyone

Anyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, may be at risk for developing cancer. Some risk factors may be specific to the cancer type. However, other risk factors are more general. general. Everyone should be aware of risk factors because many can be changed to reduce the likelihood of receiving a cancer diagnosis.

Some risk factors are beyond our control. Risk factors for cancer that can affect anyone include:

  • Age. Because most cancers develop over years, those over age 65 are more likely to receive a diagnosis. You cannot change your age. However, as you get older, you can take better care of your health.
  • Lifestyle habits. Certain lifestyle choices can increase your risk of developing cancer. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, sun exposure, poor dietary choices, and extra weight are all lifestyle habits that generally increase the risk of developing cancer. Thankfully, these lifestyle habits can be changed to reduce the risks.  and that can be changed.
  • Genetics and family history. No one has control over their family medical history.  Having family members with cancer does not guarantee you will develop it, but it may increase the risk.
  • Environment. Environmental factors increasing the risk of cancer include exposure to certain chemicals or secondhand smoke.
  • Medical conditions. Some medical conditions increase the likelihood of developing some cancers. For example, ulcerative colitis increases the risk of colon cancer.

While anyone may face these cancer risk factors, members of the LGBT community are more likely to have specific or additional risk factors. It is important to be aware of these and take charge of your health to reduce your cancer risk.

Smoking and Cancer

Lung cancer is a common and deadly cancer. Smoking is the leading cause in 80 percent of lung cancer deaths. Studies show gay and bisexual men are more likely to smoke than heterosexual men. While lesbians and bisexual women are nearly twice as likely to smoke as heterosexual women. Transgender individuals are also more likely to smoke.

Most people are aware that smoking puts you at risk for lung cancer. However, smoking also increases your risks for developing other cancers including colorectal and cervical cancers. SMoking It also causes other health problems, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, bronchitis, and emphysema. Perhaps the most important lifestyle change anyone can make to improve health is to quit smoking. However, it is also important to be aware of secondhand smoke and try to avoid it.

Increased Breast Cancer Risk in Gay Women

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women. Lesbian and bisexual women may have additional risk factors for developing this disease. Simply being female and aging are considered risk factors for breast cancer/ Also, having a family member with this type of cancer increases your chances of developing it. Additionally, women who have not had children, who have not breast fed a baby, and who are older when they have a first child are at an increased risk for breast cancer.

These additional factors are more likely to affect gay and bisexual women. This means women in the LGBT community should take precautions and be aware of the added risk. Talk to your doctor about what you need to do. It is important to discuss when to begin breast cancer screenings, mammograms, and self-evaluations.

Increased Cancer Risk from HPV

HPV, the human papilloma virus, is a sexually transmitted infection that causes genital or anal warts. This virus can affect men and women of any sexual orientation. Anyone who is sexually active may contract HPV. However, the risk of contracting it is greater for those who engage in anal sex. Contracting HPV does not mean you will develop cancer. However, it does increase the risk of anal cancer and cervical cancer. Gay and bisexual men are 17 percent more likely than heterosexual men to develop anal cancer.

The HPV vaccine is recommended for men up to age 26 who have sex with other men. Condoms do not always protect against the transmission of the disease. Therefore, limiting sex partners is a way to reduce the risk of developing HPV.

All women should have a pap smear with an HPV test every five years.

Other Factors Associated with Increased Cancer Risk

In addition to specific types of cancers that affect men and women in the LGBT Community, there are other factors that can impact cancer rates less directly. For instance, lesbians are more likely than heterosexual women to be obese and to be physically inactive. These are lifestyle habits that impact overall health, increasing the risk of cancer in general. Lesbian are also less likely to visit the doctor for regular screenings, which can lead to early cancer diagnoses.

Barriers to Care

In addition to extra risk factors some LGBT men and women face, they may also experience barriers to preventative health care, cancer screenings, and other types of medical care. Studies have found gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women receive less health care than heterosexual, cisgender men and women. This includes fewer cancer screenings. Some of the reported barriers to care include:

  • Less health care coverage. Many plans do not cover unmarried partners. Gay or bisexual women or men may be left out of a partner’s workplace coverage, receiving less medical care as a result.
  • Bad experiences. Men and women in the LGBT community often report bad experiences with health care providers. This often leads to skipping or delaying appointments and screenings.
  • Fear of discrimination. Sometimes, when members of the LGBT community visit the doctor, they are reluctant to talk about sexuality. This is due to fear of discrimination.
  • Lack of training in care providers. When LGBT members do attempt to receive health care and are open about their sexual activities, health care providers may be inadequately trained to provide appropriate care for these patients.

Men and women of the LGBT community often carry certain risk factors for developing cancer. Some risk factors cannot be changed or controlled, but many can. If you are a member of the LGBT community, know your risk factors, make lifestyle changes to reduce risks, and find a health care provider open to your specific health care needs.

Page edited by Dave Foster

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Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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