Former Australian Medical Association president Dr Kerryn Phelps will launch ACON’s first Understanding Cancer Forum on May 1, an information day addressing cancer from the perspective of same-sex attracted people.

Event organiser and ACON’s lesbian health coordinator Annaliese Constable hopes the forum will encourage greater acknowledgement of the impact cancer has on the community, and same-sex attracted women in particular.

“Lesbians as a group present with higher rates of risks — smoking, problematic alcohol consumption. They’re also less likely to screen regularly,” she said.

“The forum is for people who have been diagnosed, their partners, friends and carers, but also people who haven’t, who want to learn about screening and prevention.”

The ravaging effects of cancer have similar physical impacts for everyone, but providing space for gay and lesbian people to speak openly about illness and the impact it has on their relationships and sexuality is important for healing.

“We have problems getting lesbians to get their tests done. A lot of the time it’s got to do with previous, negative experiences women have had in health settings — homophobia or people’s partners not being recognised,” Constable said.

It is a particular concern for older lesbians who have lived through times of even more overt discrimination.

“There is a need for people to be able to talk in a space where they know their relationship will be understood and the relevance of their life partner will be taken into account.

“Sexuality is also relevant to cancer. A lot of the time when women are diagnosed with breast cancer, there are feelings around their body, things changing with their body and how that relates to their sexuality and having sex.”

Topics will include treatment options, nutrition and complementary therapies, and support for carers.

info: Understanding Cancer is on May 1 at Petersham RSL. For program details visit RSVP: or call 9206 2007.

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