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Improving Care For LGBTQ Cancer Patients

Improving Care For LGBTQ Cancer Patients
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Published on June 24, 2020

Improving Care For LGBTQ Cancer Patients

When I checked in for an appointment with my primary care physician earlier this year, I noticed that the intake form had been updated. In addition to a line for gender, there is now a line asking for the patient’s preferred pronouns. Progress!

I see this as a step in the right direction for health care to be more inclusive for patients of all genders and sexual identities. Many obstetrics and gynecology intake forms now ask about sexual identity too. Why? Because it matters to our overall health.

June is Pride Month

Pride Month is celebrated in the United States each year in June to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which happened in 1969 outside of the Stonewall Inn, a bar in the Greenwich Village neighborhood in Manhattan. It was an uprising to end the oppression of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) people everywhere.

Along with the Black Lives Matters movement, LGBTQ groups need more than lip service to end violence and mistreatment; they need allies to help move social change forward and create a more inclusive environment, both in and outside of health care settings. Health care disparities may cause people to delay or avoid seeking screenings, preventative treatments, and cancer care.

Being Your Own Advocate

In the cancer setting, things are starting to change. LGBTQ patients with cancer face unique challenges in medical settings. Between experiencing implicit bias to outright discrimination, people may seek cancer screenings later and face worse outcomes in the long term. Medical students spend fewer than five hours, on average, training to care for this patient population1, but change is afoot.

Several presentations during the recent American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, held virtually this year, featured presentations with doctors talking to each other about how to improve health care for LGBTQ patients.

In a recent study, 219,665 and 206,446 participants were eligible for breast and cervical cancer screening, respectively.2 The study found that when compared with cisgender patients (people whose gender identity matches their sex at birth), transgender participants were far less likely to adhere to cancer screening. In addition, transgender participants were less likely to have a primary care physician and had not seen a physician when needed within the past year due to medical costs. The Medicaid Expansion of the Affordable Care Act may help ease some of the financial burdens to patients.

If your gender or identity is not clear to your doctor, please know that your health is important to them. You may not look like someone who needs a breast exam and a mammogram, a cervical cancer swab, a prostate cancer test (the PSA blood draw), or tests for genetic markers for cancer-based on family history. It’s important to speak up and be your own best advocate so your doctor can help you get the screenings you need for prevention and early detection of cancer.

Patient Power celebrates the diversity of our readers, fellow patients with cancer, and of course our caregivers. Happy Pride Month!

~Lauren Evoy Davis

Recommended for You:


1Deza EG, et al. Caring for transgender cancer patients: Shortcomings of medical education. J Clin Oncol. 38: 2020 (suppl; abstr 11002)

2Oladeru OT, et al. Breast and cervical cancer screening disparities among transgender patients. J Clin Oncol. 38: 2020 (suppl; abstr 7024)

This article is part of Patient Power’s ongoing commitment to educate and advocate for healthcare equity and inclusiveness for all impacted by cancer, and to continually grow our outreach and support.


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