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What LGBTQ+ people should know about cancer disparities

Cancer is a scary prospect for anyone, but it can be even more concerning for people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Washington National’s community partner, American Cancer Society, shares that, “People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer (LGBTQ) may have a higher risk of getting cancer than those who identify as heterosexual or cisgender.”

There aren’t biological or physiological differences between LGBTQ+ people and their heterosexual peers, so why do these disparities exist? Research shows there are a number of contributing factors:

Insurance & financial barriers

LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be unemployed and therefore uninsured. This can lead them to delay care that’s vital in preventing and screening for cancer.


The Mayo Clinic reports that 16% of people who identify as sexual and gender minorities have experienced discrimination while seeking health care, and nearly 1 in 5 have avoided getting health care out of fear of discrimination.

What’s more, 47% of LGBTQ+ people have experienced medical gaslighting in the past two years. Medical gaslighting happens when a medical provider downplays, invalidates or negates a patient’s concerns about health-related matters.

Limited knowledge among health care professionals

Another contributing factor is limited knowledge among health care professionals about how cancer impacts LGBTQ+ people.

For example, lesbian women are less likely than heterosexual women to be encouraged to receive cancer preventive care, such as HPV vaccinations and Pap tests. But when lesbian women receive Pap tests, their results are more likely to be abnormal.

Low levels of trust in health care

Considering the discrimination LGBTQ+ people face when it comes to health care, it’s unsurprising that just 54% of LGBTQ+ people trust their primary care providers, compared to 70% of heterosexual people. Distrust can lead people to avoid going to the doctor and miss out on important screenings that can catch cancer early when it’s easier to treat.

Health risk factors

The Mayo Clinic shares that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to have a cluster of risk factors that contribute to increased cancer incidence and late-stage diagnosis, including: delayed cancer screening, alcohol use, smoking, obesity, HIV infection and HPV infection.

Here are five tips to help the LGBTQ+ community address cancer disparities.

1. For people without health insurance, find out if you qualify for Medicaid or lower costs for a Marketplace insurance plan. If you have health insurance, consider supplementing your coverage with a cancer insurance policy that helps pay for preventive screening tests and treatment if you face cancer.

2. If you feel like you aren’t being supported by your doctor or getting the care you need, find another provider. Ask around and find out if there are any affirming providers in your area. If there are limited options where you live, bring a person you trust with you to appointments. This person can provide support and help you avoid misunderstandings and missed details.

3. If you feel like you’ve been discriminated against or gaslit, take advantage of patient advocacy and complaint services so issues can be addressed at a system level.

4. Regularly visit the doctor and be your own knowledgeable advocate when it comes to cancer screening guidelines. Go to appointments equipped with facts and knowledge. The American Cancer Society’s guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer is an excellent resource for determining what screenings you’re due for.

5. Take steps to improve your health. Avoid tobacco and limit alcohol. Eat healthy, exercise regularly, get enough sleep and nurture your mental health.

Want more? Check out our blog, Q & A: How does exercise benefit cancer patients?

We’re here for you!

Are you interested in learning more about cancer insurance? Find a local Washington National agent, who will answer all your questions.

Washington National is a private company that is not Medicare, Medicaid or MaineCare and is not a governmental agency