Disparities between Lesbians and Gay Men in Cancer Diagnosis/Treatment

While it has not been established that lesbians really are at higher risk of of breast cancer than ‘straight’ women, the American Cancer Society (based on an Institute of Medicine report published in 2011[1]), notes that lesbians receive less routine medical care than heterosexuals (including screening for breast, colon, and cervical cancer)[2]. Meanwhile, research has shown that lesbians have less access to health insurance than ‘straight’ women[3]. The reality of ignorance of LGBT issues among healthcare practitioners contributes to lesbians with breast cancer getting diagnosed at a later stage—and, therefore, needing more intensive treatment and/or having an overall worse outcome. This is especially true for African-American lesbians[4].

Gay men in the United States have a higher rate of substance abuse as compared to their heterosexual counterparts[5]—and this may be due to the prejudice in society that places enormous pressure on gay men to hide sexual identity. Many of these abused substances have carcinogenic properties when ingested over a long period of time. Meanwhile, men who have sex with men (MSMs) accounted in 2010 for 63 percent of all new HIV infections[6] (and it is well-documented that HIV predisposes infected individuals to developing certain types of cancer). The prevalence of HPV in gay men who are HIV-negative is 61 percent, while it is 93 percent for HIV-positive gay men—and HPV has been linked to anal cancer[7]. The result is that factors that are not genetic may play a greater role in gay men developing cancer than in heterosexual men. As of 2013, the cohort with the highest incidence of new HIV/AIDS infections were African American gay males aged 13-24 years (who also were the least likely to use condoms)[8]—which is raising concern at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.


You may be currently living with cancer or have been cured of it.  However, it is unlikely that you will ever again feel as secure about your cancer status as before you were diagnosed. Living a healthy lifestyle is the most important step to protecting your overall health. Since smoking, cigarettes, alcoholism and substance abuse have all been linked to a higher risk for cancer, getting treatment for such an addiction can be the most important step you take to prevent a recurrence of cancer and improve your likelihood of having a healthy future.

[1] Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health Issues and Research Gaps and Opportunities; Board on the Health of Select Populations. The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding. 2011; Institute of Medicine. Webpage: https://www.iom.edu/Reports/2011/The-Health-of-Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-and-Transgender-People.aspx

[2] American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts for Lesbians and Bisexual Women. Webpage: http://www.cancer.org/healthy/findcancerearly/womenshealth/cancer-facts-for-lesbians-and-bisexual-women

[3] Healthy People 2020: Lesbian Health Fact Sheet. Website: http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender-health

[4] Brownsworth, Victoria. (November 19, 2013). The Invisible Epidemic: Lesbians and Cancer. Huffington Post Webpage: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victoria-a-brownworth/the-invisible-epidemic-le_b_4293936.html

[5] Center for American Progress. Why the Gay and Transgender Population Experiences Higher Rates of Substance Use. Webpage: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/report/2012/03/09/11228/why-the-gay-and-transgender-population-experiences-higher-rates-of-substance-use/

[6] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health. Webpage: http://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/

[7] Barker MR. (2008). Gay and Lesbian Health Disparities: Evidence and Recommendations for Elimination. Journal of Health Disparities Research and Practice 2(2): 91-120. Webpage: http://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1095&context=jhdrp

[8] Green, Emma. (November 22, 2013). Homophobia in Black Communities Means More Young Men Get AIDS. The Atlantic Webpage: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/11/homophobia-in-black-communities-means-more-young-men-get-aids/281741/