Coping With Emotions

LGBT Cancer Community is High Risk with Low Support

Cancer is never an easy thing to think about, whether you're going through treatment or not, but it helps to know that you're never alone.

Regrettably, the LGBT cancer community is often overlooked by other survivors, clinicians and the greater community. Recent studies suggest that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have a higher rate of cancer incidence for certain types, but there is little awareness. Many LGBT cancer survivors — and those going through treatment — struggle to find clinicians and peer support groups that truly understand their unique situation. Others in this community may feel unsure of how to prevent cancer.

What the Research Says

A recent review article in CA: a Cancer Journal for Clinicians aims to make sense of this, citing statistics relating to healthcare coverage, socioeconomic status and extrinsic risk factors. What is much more important than numbers is that individuals understand their personal risks and address them.

Cancer is never an easy thing to think about, whether you’re going through treatment or not, but it helps to know that you’re not alone — and that prevention is in your hands.

Rise Above the Statistics

According to smokefree.gov, LGBT Americans are twice as likely to take up smoking. Cigarettes may be a part of your identity, or how you deal with stress, but there are other, less destructive ways to make yourself feel better — and expressing a desire to quit is a huge step. Once you are ready, seek support groups to share your experience with peers. You can also use nicotine replacement therapy or other medications to ease your physical side effects. Check out other tips for quitting at the National LGBT Tobacco Control Network.

When it comes to an addiction to alcohol or drugs, NALGAP: The Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Addiction Professionals and Their Allies offers a network of educational literature to assist you in finding the support you need to actively fight addiction. Talk to your doctor to get recommendations for local LGBT support groups to get the encouragement you deserve.

Beyond finding support in order to combat risky habits, it is imperative that you find a supportive medical team to assist you in focusing on screenings and other preventative care. Find a clinician that you trust and feel comfortable being honest with. Don’t let a bad experience with one clinician keep you away from doctors altogether. The National LGBT Cancer Network offers information on preventative screenings and cancer risk assessments. By arming yourself with information before you make an appointment, you’ll be a step ahead and the time you spend with your doctor will be more productive.

How to Get the Support You Need

While everyone’s cancer experience certainly is different, members of the LGBT community face situations that are often not covered in traditional cancer support groups. An online or in-person peer cancer support group that caters to LGBT survivors can offer conversations about topics that include healthcare issues and life after cancer. The National LGBT Cancer Network has information about online support groups, as does the organization Out with Cancer.

UVA Cancer Center understands the challenges facing LGBT cancer patients. Make an appointment today.

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Haley Burress
Haley Burress