Oncology Professionals Benefit from Provider Education on LGBTQ+ Issues

Significant health disparities remain for cancer patients who identify as LGBTQ+, and differences also remain in terms of quality of life during and after the cancer diagnosis as well. Similar to LGBTQ+ individuals without a cancer diagnosis, those with a cancer diagnosis experience greater use of substances including alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs when compared to their cisgender and heterosexual counterparts. LGBTQ+ cancer survivors also experience greater relationship struggles and and levels of distress when compared to heterosexual cancer survivors.

Many health care providers in oncology experienced little to no education on LGBTQ+ health during their medical or nursing education. They may not be aware of the health disparities and impact faced by their LGBTQ+ oncological patients, or how LGBTQ+ identity itself can be a health risk factor.

Some cancers are more prevalent in certain LGBTQ+ populations, such as breast cancer in women who have sex with women, making it that much more important to participate in efforts to increase provider understanding of health disparities and concerns.

Some patients may not disclose their sexual orientation and/or gender identity to their providers when seeking treatment, and if providers do not ask they may miss vital information to improve patient outcomes. If patients do not disclose their risk factors, providers may miss important screening tests and targeted interventions.

Social determinants of health factor into the the health disparities between LGBTQ+ and cigender and/or heterosexual communities as well when it comes to cancer diagnosis and survivorship. LGBTQ+ people have statistically less economic stability; lower levels of education; discrimination in employment, housing, and general civil rights; poor access to health care; and other considerations that may negatively impact the cancer experience.

Provider education will bridge the gap between current knowledge and the necessary level of evidence for oncology professionals to improve the care of their LGBTQ+ patients. This education should include an understanding of vocabulary and definitions; improving the environment for LGBTQ+ patients; improving communication and social support systems; and cancer survivorship issues specific to LGBTQ+ persons.

As oncology nurses and oncologists become more informed and are better able to provide culturally competent care, they can better serve their LGBTQ+ patients and contribute significantly to increased quality of life and improved patient outcomes.

The National LGBT Cancer Network has provided a helpful list of resources:

Cancer health disparities

National cancer organizations of
particular interest to LGBT people

Anal cancer

HIV and cancer

Bisexual health

Transgender people and cancer

Local lesbian cancer organizations

Jan Kaminsky