Study Finds Higher Cancer Risk Among LGBTQ Individuals Due To Discrimination

Study Finds Higher Cancer Risk Among LGBTQ Individuals Due To Discrimination
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The American Cancer Society has unveiled findings that highlight a concerning link between cancer prevalence and anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination. 

In its 2024 Cancer Facts and Figures report, the organisation highlighted a significant health disparity faced by LGBTQ+ individuals: the presumption-of-care gap. This gap reflects the fear that healthcare providers may refuse care based on gender identity or sexual orientation, further exacerbating their vulnerability to cancer.

The report underscores how “minority stress” factors, including smoking, excess body weight, HIV, and access to gender transition surgical procedures, contribute to an elevated prevalence of cancer among this community.

A section titled “Cancer in People Who Identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, or Gender-nonconforming,” revealed that over half of LGBTQ+ adults have encountered harassment, ranging from slurs and microaggressions to sexual harassment and violence. One in three individuals were also reported to have faced discrimination while simply attempting to use public bathrooms.

Legalised Discrimination: LGBTQ+ Healthcare Rights Under Threat

According to the latest findings from the American Cancer Society, medical professionals in nine states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee) are legally permitted to deny care to LGBTQ+ patients. This legal provision affects approximately 20% of the LGBTQ+ population.

The report also found that LGBTQ+ cancer survivors exhibit poorer physical and mental health than the general public. They also demonstrate a higher prevalence of cigarette smoking and heavy alcohol use, and frequently experienced “homophobia and discomfort expressed by health care providers.

Lesbian and gay individuals are 27% more likely to smoke cigarettes than heterosexual individuals, while bisexual individuals are 66% more likely to smoke. 

Health Risks of Discrimination Against LGBTQ+ Individuals

The report found that psychological stress influences biochemical changes such as increased cortisol levels, which can lead to chronic inflammation and increase the risk of cancer and other diseases. LGBTQ+ individuals experiencing discrimination and ‘minority stress’ factors often avoid healthcare settings, creating significant barriers to accessing care.

“LGBTQ+ individuals with cancer experience disparate outcomes across the cancer continuum, including prevention, screening and early detection, diagnosis, treatment, and palliative care”, the report found. LGBTQ+ individuals with cancer are also 3-6 times more likely to report high or very high distress levels. 

The report emphasised the need to address several factors, including inadequate access to high-quality care, limited provider understanding of LGBTQ+ patient needs, discrimination within healthcare settings, and the absence of population-based cancer occurrence data. 

These barriers to health equity must be addressed to reduce the increased prevalence of mental health and unhealthy behaviours that increase cancer risk. 

Promoting Transgender Health Through Accessible Gender-Affirming Care

The American Medical Association (AMA) website emphasises that “enhancing access to gender-affirming care is crucial for improving health outcomes among the transgender population.”

According to the organisation, receiving gender-affirming care has been associated with significantly lower rates of suicide attempts, reduced occurrences of depression and anxiety, decreased substance use, enhanced adherence to HIV medication, and decreased instances of harmful self-administered hormone use.

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