LGBTQ: Is your Oncologist up to Speed with your Needs?

Summary: LGBTQ patient care can be very tricky for those patients and doctors who are treating cancer of those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning. Many doctors are not up to speed with the latest physical, mental and emotional changes that occur for these groups of people, which can affect certain aspects of care. Here you can read about the gaps in care, how doctors are working towards more knowledge, and what the health needs are for LGBTQ patients.

Cancer cells never discriminate and do not care what the patient’s color, creed or origin may be. But when a patient who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning is diagnosed, they may have certain health needs or worries that their doctors are not expecting or prepared for. When it comes to patient cancer care, new studies find that many doctor are lacking in updated knowledge about treating patients who are in the LGBTQ community.

Research studies and statistics pulled from the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that a majority of oncologists say they are comfortable treating patients who identify as LGBTQ, but only half of them expressed confidence in their knowledge of these specific patient health needs. In these studies, over four-hundred-fifty oncologist from the forty-five accredited cancer centers across the United States. The questions stated on these surveys were designed to assess the doctor’s knowledge, behavior, attitude and willingness to be educated and help patients in the LGBTQ community. Most of the doctors who participated in this survey were heterosexual males.

What are the health needs for LGBTQ patients?

Providing care for LGBTQ patients was incorporated in medical school curriculums around 2009. Before that time, doctors did not receive the training or knowledge on how to handle these patients. The study results showed that there was a large gap in care coming from doctors not being able to appropriately assess cancer risk for members of the LGBTQ community. The survey asked doctors if they were aware that the LGBTQ community is most likely to spend more time in the sun, use tobacco and have substance abuse problems. These doctors were also asked whether or not women who have never had sex with a man are still at risk for the human papillomavirus, which has been linked to multiple types of cancer in both men and women.

Many doctors who took these surveys did not know that those statements are indeed true. The research studies also proved that there was a lack of understanding of the personal and familial problems that arises within the LGBTQ community and within their own family unit. Many times, the LGBTQ patient is estranged from some or all of their family, or health care providers. It is also important for doctors not to assume things about LGBTQ patients. For example, do not assume patients of child-bearing years are not interested in fertility preservation methods just because of their orientation. They may still badly want to have children someday.

What to do with Gaps in Transgender Care

Over eighty-three percent of oncologists surveyed in the studies said they were comfortable treating transgender patients, but only thirty-seven percent reported that they felt comfortable and confident in their medical decisions for these patients. Past research has shown that transgender people often avoid or postpone medical care because they fear they will face undue discrimination and have immense concern about how they will be treated. Many state they have needed to teach their health care providers about transgender care, and some have been completed refused treatment because the doctor is not comfortable with treating a member of the LGBTQ community at all.

In 2015, a report generated by the New York Academy of Medicine on access to quality health care for transgender people describes how complex the fight for correct care they deserve and have a right to. In severe cases, patients have reported being thrown out of doctor’s offices for misinformation and misunderstandings when it comes to living as a transgendered individual. All doctors state that it is always important to ask a patient how they would like to be addresses and to use the proper pronouns that he or she identifies with.

More LGBTQ Training for our Doctors & Oncologists

As a result of these study findings, the developing researchers instructed cancer centers to create a safe environment for patients to disclose their sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as to help establish and carry out protocols for treating all LGBTQ patients. While this lack of knowledge is not a patient issue, but an entire reconfiguration of medical training to include services and plans for treating all aspects of LGBTQ patient care.

While these surveys did reveal most oncologists lack awareness in key health issues facing LGBTQ patients, it also found a very high interest in receiving more information and becoming educated with current, relevant information to help their patients in need. Those doctors and study creators who are working together to bring light to the lack of awareness for medical and cancer care treatment in the LGBTQ are tirelessly creating new methods of delivery and ways to educate doctors worldwide on all patient needs.

Resources Used:



Reclaiming Intimacy

Journal of Clinical Oncology

New York Academy of Medicine

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