Published on August 5, 2020
How is the LGBTQ Community Affected by Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer is the second most prevalent cancer in the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Smokers are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, but nonsmokers can develop lung cancer too.
Unfortunately, lung cancer disproportionally affects the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community. This higher risk of lung cancer likely arises from the increased use of tobacco products by this group compared to others. Some studies show that anywhere from 25% to 39% of sexual minorities are actively consuming nicotine products.1
There are many risk factors that may help explain the higher use of tobacco: less access to healthcare and cancer screening, less targeted smoking secession campaigns, and overall higher social pressure to consume these products.
The real question in the face of this is, how can these numbers be reversed or improved?
Lack of Proper Healthcare
The LGBTQ community has long been underserved by the medical community, often through biases engendered in the medical system itself. Before marriage equality, many sexual minorities could not see their partners who were critically ill or dying because they were not legally recognized as immediate family.
Other factors could be2:
- The fear of discrimination or harassment (minority stress)
- Negative experiences with doctors, nurses or other health care workers in the past
- Lack of legal or financial resources or insurance coverage, especially common for this group
- Shame or embarrassment
- Immigration status3
Thankfully, steps have been made to remedy the situation through training for doctors and staff and widely accessible databases of medical practitioners who actively work with sexual minorities. Disclosing one’s identity to their health team can help create a more focused and tailored approach to a cancer diagnosis.
Smoking and Peer Pressure
According to the Institute of Medicine, sexual minorities are 2.5 times more likely to smoke.4 To put that into numbers, it is estimated that up to 30% of all LGBTQ Americans actively consume tobacco products. Many attribute this to targeted campaigns by the tobacco industry starting in the 1990s that have now become ingrained in popular culture.
Although there have been a few smoking cessation campaigns directly targeting this community, their impact has been minimal so far. More resources and larger discussions need to be had in order to counteract these trends.
One idea is to replicate the campaigns that have worked relatively well nationally to this targeted group, as the percentage of smokers in the US have decreased compared to previous decades overall.
Another idea is to place these campaigns directly in LGBTQ spaces where smoking is generally encouraged. This includes bars, festivals, cafés, and community resource centers. Giving higher access to resources should decrease the number of individuals partaking in tobacco use.
The Path Forward
As medicine continues to evolve in its understanding of sexual minorities, specifically in oncology care, LGBTQ cancer patients will receive more precise and better care.
In recent months there has been a slew of lung cancer treatment options, a win for a community that overwhelmingly suffers these cancers effects. Currently, the addition of preferred gender pronouns on hospital and oncology intake forms have given the option to individuals to identify themselves in the way they want. Wider access to products counteracting nicotine addiction, like gums and patches, help reduce dependence on such products.
Better funded and more inclusive cancer research, LGBTQ-specific cancer support networks, and the lessening stigmatization of this minority all point to a brighter future with better options for preventing and treating lung cancer.
Please talk to your oncologist and care team for ways they can better aid you in your journey with cancer, especially if you feel your identity may put you at a higher risk.
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1Quinn GP, Sanchez JA, Sutton SK, et al. Cancer and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) populations. CA Cancer J Clin. 2015;65(5):384-400. doi:10.3322/caac.21288
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