LGBT Community and the Risk of Cancer
While everybody is at risk of developing cancer – some are more at risk than others depending on genetics, age, gender and lifestyle. People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) are at elevated risks for many types of cancer. The biggest risk factor? The LGBT community is less likely to receive routine healthcare than those who do not identify as LGBT. Reasons include:
- Lower rates of health insurance
- Fear of discrimination
- Negative past experiences
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and getting screened are the best ways to prevent cancer and detect it in the early stages when it’s most easily treated. The American Cancer Society says thousands of deaths could be prevented with proper screening alone. Knowing your risk factors and openly communicating with your provider is the best way to know what types of cancer you should be screened for.
Specific Risk Factors for the LGBT Community
Gay and Bisexual Men
For men who have sex with men there is a higher risk for anal cancer. If you have several sex partners or have HIV you might have an increased chance for this type of cancer. By having fewer sex partners, using condoms and getting the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, you can lower your risk. You can also talk to your healthcare provider about an anal pap test and other preventive measures.
Lesbian and Bisexual Women
If you are a lesbian or bisexual woman you’re at higher risk for:
- Breast cancer if you haven’t had children or breast-fed a baby, and are older when you first give birth.
- Cervical cancer if you’ve been sexually active with a man or a woman, and if you have HPV
- Endometrial and ovarian cancer if you’ve taken estrogen therapy without progesterone, have taken male hormones, are obese, have never been pregnant or have never taken oral contraceptives.
Transgender Men and Women
The transgender community should also be mindful of cancer risks. If you have a particular body part or organ, it is important to receive regular screening for that part of the body. For example, if you’re a man transitioning to a woman, you might have more breast tissue. This increases your chance of developing breast cancer, and you should talk to your provider about having regular mammograms. There are also side effects of hormone use to keep in mind. It is believed that estrogen can contribute to breast, ovarian and uterine cancer.
Advance Care Planning
Healthy or not, young or old, everybody should plan for their future healthcare and designate an advocate with an advance directive (AD). Without an AD, hospitals generally turn to traditional family relationships for somebody to consent to immediate treatment needs. LGBT adults often fall outside these traditional family relationships. The AD document also is a place to identify and document medical preferences for life-sustaining treatments. Thinking and talking about healthcare preferences before a crisis not only decreases quarrels about decisions, but most importantly helps ensure a person’s wishes are honored. For more information and a printable Making Choices Michigan AD, visit bronsonhealth.com/acp.
To learn more about cancer risk and prevention, talk with your doctor. To learn more about Bronson's cancer program, visit bronsonhealth.com/cancer.