Of all the factors that could influence cancer and survivorship, it’s a tragedy to think that sexual orientation is one of them. However, that is exactly what a new study has concluded: gay men have a greater prevalence of cancer than heterosexual men, and bisexual and lesbian female cancer survivors have more health problems than their heterosexual female counterparts.
The study is enlightening because the findings take a closer look at the types of programs and services lesbian, gay, and bisexual cancer survivors need. Because cancer survey studies do not include questions about sexual orientation, there is little information about how many cancer survivors identify themselves. In an effort to close the information gap, Ulrike Boehmer, PhD, of the Boston University School of Public Health, and her team examined how sexual orientation corresponds to cancer survival in California. They also looked at how sexual orientation may be related to the degree of health that cancer survivors experience.The study.
The study included data from a total of 7,252 women and 3,690 men that reported a cancer diagnosis. The data revealed no significant differences in cancer rate by orientation among women. However, bisexual and lesbian female cancer survivors were more than twice as likely to report they have poorer health than heterosexual female cancer survivors. Gay men were 1.9 times as likely to receive a cancer diagnosis than their heterosexual counterparts. The health of male cancer survivors was not significantly different among gay and heterosexual men.
Dr. Boehmer states, “This information can be used for the development of services for the lesbian, gay and bisexual population. Because more gay men report as cancer survivors, there is a need for most programs for gay men to focus on primary cancer prevention
and early cancer detection
. Because more lesbian and bisexual women than heterosexual women with cancer report that they were in poor health, we need more programs and services that improve the well-being of lesbian and bisexual cancer survivors.”
As many studies do, this research raises more questions. For example, do more gay men report a history of cancer because they actually get a cancer diagnosis, or are more gay men surviving cancer when compared with heterosexual men? By the same token, are bisexual and lesbian women equally likely as heterosexual women to be diagnosed with cancer, or are the similarities the results of the differences in the survival of lesbian and bisexual women? Life after cancer.
Boehmer states that the poorer quality of life experienced by lesbian and bisexual female cancer survivors could be due to “minority stress.” Minority groups, which include bisexual women and lesbians, often report discrimination and prejudiced behavior that could negatively affect their psychological, and thus physical health as well. Finances can be a contributing factor
as well since lesbian women are often uninsured or underinsured because they don’t have the health benefits of a partner. Obviously, this adds even more strain to an already heavy burden.
It could be that the lower quality of life doesn’t reveal as much about the cancer diagnosis as it does about life experiences in general, such as a major life crisis that a cancer diagnosis can bring.