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Cancer: How gay, lesbian and bisexual cancer survivors are different

May 09, 2011|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times / for the Booster Shots blog
  • Participants in a gay pride parade in San Francisco. Researchers reported in the journal Cancer that cancer survivors who are gay, lesbian or bisexual aren't exactly like their heterosexual peers.
Participants in a gay pride parade in San Francisco. Researchers reported… (Justin Sullivan/Getty…)

Gay men are about twice as likely to be cancer survivors than straight men. Lesbian and bisexual women who are cancer survivors are more than twice as likely to report fair or poor health than heterosexual women who have survived cancer.

These discoveries, among others about gay, lesbian and bisexual cancer survivors, were published online Monday by the journal Cancer.  

Researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health pored over California health survey data to learn more about gay, lesbian and bisexual cancer survivors in the U.S. -- a group not tracked by the public agencies that report cancer cases.  

They found significant differences between those groups and heterosexual cancer survivors.  

Gay men's cancer survivorship was 8%, 1.9 times the prevalence among heterosexual and bisexual men -- and gay men tended to be diagnosed at a younger age than the rest of the male population (41, on average). The study's authors wrote that the higher incidence of cancer might be caused by a higher rate of anal cancer.  They also speculated that HIV infection, which has been linked to some cancers, might contribute. The incidence of prostate cancer among gay men was about a third lower than that among straight and bisexual men. The paper noted that studies have shown that HIV infection is linked to lower rates of prostate cancer. Gay men who had survived cancer reported health similar to that of other men.

Among lesbians and bisexual women, cancer prevalence was similar to that of other women, the survey found.  But there were differences in uterine and cervical cancers. Forty-one percent of bisexual women reported having cervical cancer -- twice the prevalence of the disease among other women.  And uterine cancer was most prevalent among lesbians.

"This information can be used for the development of services for the lesbian, gay and bisexual population," said lead author Ulrike Boehmer in a statement. For example, the study suggested, health authorities might want to target bisexual women for cervical cancer screenings, such as Pap smears.

Nationwide, according to 2006 statistics, about 4% of the U.S. population are cancer survivors.


One reason this research team studied California survey data is because federal health surveys don't ask about sexual orientation.  Booster Shots' Amina Khan reported about a study released in March that suggested they should change that practice.

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