Understanding Cancer Disparities among the LGBTQ+ Community

New Brunswick, N.J., June 1, 2023 –Cancer health disparities are differences in cancer burden experienced by racial and ethnic minorities and other medically underserved populations including individuals from sexual and gender minorities. Discrimination based on gender identity and/or sexual orientation contributes to cancer disparities today. 

Stethoscope with rainbow colors behind it

What we know: While data about cancer among members of the LGBTQ+ community is somewhat limited, recent studies have found that members of this group may have an elevated rate of cancer diagnoses.

  • According to a study in JAMA Dermatology, the odds of developing skin cancer are significantly higher in both gay men and bisexual men compared with heterosexual men.
  • A study in Cancer found that bisexual women have significantly higher rates of cervical cancer compared with heterosexual women.
  • According to the American Association for Cancer Research, transgender men are more than twice as likely as cisgender men to be diagnosed with cancer.
  • A study published in Journal of the National Cancer Institute says transgender people may be diagnosed at later stages, be less likely to receive treatment, and have worse survival for several cancer types, compared to cisgender patients. 
  • According to the National LGBT Cancer Network, cigarette smoking among gay men is nearly double that of the general population. Smoking increases the risk for many cancers, including lung, mouth, throat, cervical, blood, bladder, esophagus, stomach, pancreatic and kidney cancers.

The challenge: According to the American Cancer Society, LGTBQ+ individuals may have worse health outcomes due to fear of discrimination, past negative healthcare experiences, and lack of adequate insurance coverage. According to the National LGBT Cancer Network, because the LGBTQ+ population faces unique barriers when accessing any health care system, both preventative and essential care are affected, which can result in disparities in cancer risk and treatment.

Cancer care teams and communities can be better allies. Despite the barriers and disparities that many LGBTQ+ individuals with cancer face, education for medical professionals on the topic of healthcare and cancer is growing to support this community. Identifying and acknowledging disparities helps us work together to improve access to care and treatment and reduce cancer risks. Additional tips for clinicians whom deal with this population include:

  • Be willing to learn more about individuals who are LGBTQ+, their experiences, and the issues they often face
  • Use terminology that is currently embraced by the LGBTQ+ community (i.e. inclusive and gender neutral language) and (if the “as well as” above is a lead in to this point, you need “and” here to do the same thing)
  • Confront your own prejudices and bias, even if it is uncomfortable to do so.  Remember, you do not need to understand why an individual identifies the way they do to know they deserve to be treated with respect and consideration.

      Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and RWJBarnabas Health facilities are inclusive environments with staff dedicated to serving the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. Learn more

Joan Hogan, DSW, LCSW, OSW-C, manager of Social Work Services and Rosemarie Slirzewski, MSW, LCSW, social worker at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and leading cancer program, both specialize in LGBTQ+ equity.