Cancer survivorship 'varies by sexual orientation'

In collaboration with Adfero

Gay men are more likely to say they have previously been diagnosed with cancer than heterosexual men, while lesbian and bisexual women who have survived the disease tend to report worse health than heterosexual female survivors, new research suggests.

The results of a study by researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health and published in the journal Cancer, suggest that services should be tailored to people of different sexual orientations.

Led by Dr Ulrike Boehmer, the team investigated how many cancer survivors identify themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual, information that is not included in most cancer studies.

They also investigated how the health of survivors differs depending on sexual orientation, using data from the California Health Interview surveys conducted in 2001, 2003 and 2005 to come to their conclusions.

Some 7,252 women and 3,690 men included in the study reported that they had been diagnosed with cancer as adults in what is the largest state health survey carried out in the US.

There was no significant difference in prevalence among women of different sexual orientations, although lesbian and bisexual female cancer survivors were twice as likely - two and 2.3 times respectively - to report ‘fair’ or ‘poor health’ as their heterosexual peers.

Gay men were 1.9 times more likely to report a previous diagnosis of cancer than heterosexual males, but there were no differences in self-reported health levels among survivors.

Jessica Harris, Cancer Research UK's senior health information officer, said: "There is already evidence of some health inequalities as a result of sexuality, for example, smoking rates are higher in homosexual men and women than in heterosexual people.

"In this Californian survey, gay men said they were were more likely than straight men to have been diagnosed with cancer, but it's not clear from this study why this might be. It could be down to better survival or higher rates of cancer among gay men and we'd need larger studies that take both of these factors into account to find out."

Dr Boehmer said: "This information can be used for the development of services for the lesbian, gay and bisexual population. Because more gay men report as cancer survivors, we need foremost programmes for gay men that focus on primary cancer prevention and early cancer detection."

She proposed providing services that seek to improve well-being among lesbian and bisexual cancer survivors.

She also called for future studies to assess research areas such as whether more gay men report having had cancer because a greater number are being diagnosed or because more are surviving than heterosexual men.

Notes to Editor

  • Boehmer, U., Miao, X., & Ozonoff, A. (2011). Cancer survivorship and sexual orientation Cancer DOI: 10.1002/cncr.25950