Study Suggests Higher Cancer Rate Among Gay Men, Poorer Health Among Lesbian and Bisexual Survivors

A study released today in the journal Cancer that looked at the medical data of more than 120,000 people in California suggests that gay men report a higher cancer rate than heterosexual men and that female cancer survivors identifying as lesbian or bisexual report poorer health and wellbeing than their straight counterparts.

From Reuters:

“A lack of hard data” on how sexual orientation affects the risk of cancer is “one of the biggest problems we have,” said Liz Margolies, executive director of The National LGBT Cancer Network. Margolies, who was not involved in the research, told Reuters Health, “It’s critical that we know that for funding and for program planning.”

As a step toward addressing the lack of data, researchers looked at three years of responses to the California Health Interview survey, which included more than 120,000 adults living in the state.

Among other health-related questions, participants were asked if they had ever been diagnosed with cancer and whether they identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight.

The findings are published in the journal Cancer.

Out of 51,000 men, about 3,700 said they had been diagnosed with cancer as an adult. While just over 8 percent of gay men reported a history of cancer, that figure was only 5 percent in straight men. The disparity could not be attributed to differences in race, age, or income between gay and straight men.

About 7,300 out of 71,000 women in the study had been diagnosed with cancer, but overall cancer rates did not differ among lesbian, bisexual, and straight women.

However, among women who were cancer survivors, lesbian and bisexual women were more likely to report fair or poor health than straight women.

More on the issue of lesbian and bisexual women reporting poorer health from the BBC:

[Dr Ulrike Boehmer, the study's author] said: “One common explanation for why lesbian and bisexual women report worse health compared to heterosexual women is minority stress [which] suggests lesbian and bisexual women have worse health, including psychological health due to their experiences of discrimination, prejudice, and violence.”

She called for more services to “improve the well-being of lesbian and bisexual cancer survivors” and for programs which “focus on primary cancer prevention and early cancer detection” in homosexual men.

The study also showed that gay men were more likely to report being diagnosed with cancer at a younger age than straight men, with an average age of 41 among gay men.

As to why cancer rates among gay men might be higher, researchers note that LGBTs tend to have a higher level of contributing risk factors than straight-identifying adults some of which may be typical of persecuted minority groups.

Such factors include higher levels of smoking and alcohol consumption/abuse and, as mentioned above, the fact that LGBTs are less likely to go for regular health screenings for fear of discriminatory treatment.

HIV and associated infections may also play a part in higher cancer rates (HPV or the human papillomavirus being of particular concern among HIV positive men) but the study had no way of identifying this and therefore, researchers say, it remains speculation at this stage.

The one thing that the study’s authors say can be taken away from these findings is that LGBTs need more targeted health care and that, in particular, the poorer wellbeing reported by lesbian and bisexual cancer survivors needs to be acted on. As such, it is hoped these findings serve as a platform for further study.

A recent report sponsored by the National Institutes of Health found that research into disease prevalence and barriers to appropriate care where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are concerned remains a critically underdeveloped field of knowledge which in turn leaves LGBTs vulnerable when it comes to seeking medical assistance. Click here to read more.


Photo used under the MorgueFIle License, with thanks to imelenchon.


Bibi Sarangabataanan

Prostate Cancer Survival May Be Especially Tough on Gay Men

Compared to men in the general population, gay men reported statistically significant worse functioning and more severe bother scores on the EPIC urinary, bowel and hormonal system scales. Gay men also reported worse EPIC sexual and ejaculatory functioning scores, as well as much worse mental health functioning and higher fear of cancer recurrence.

"This is one of the early studies demonstrating that quality of life is more significantly impacted by prostate cancer in the gay population," Dr. Tomas L. Griebling, an AUA spokesman, said in an association news release. "More research is needed to determine what steps we can take to diminish these impacts."

Brenda Gilbert
Brenda Gilbert6 years ago

Thank you Steve, for bringing this to our attention.
Stress and self-rejection are still major issues among LGBT people. When society is more tolerant and accepting this will be reduced. When we become more loving and accepting of ourselves no matter our what our sexual orientation then we will be on our way to creating that open-minded, tolerant, compassionate society that was always meant to be.

Lilithe Magdalene


Heather G.
Heather G6 years ago

Tom Y, and LESBIAN SEX is easier on women's bodies. There's no chance of pregancy and a lot less chance of getting an STD, not to mention less chance of cervical cancer as well.

Ali F.
Ali S6 years ago

Very well said Tom Y. I agree completely! Of course anything that goes against such a skewed agenda that tolerates nothing objectionable to it's views, no matter how logical or rational, is going to state the obvious when it doesn't promote their idea. Peace and love. :)

Tom Y.
Tom Y6 years ago

I see comments here that skirt the obvious: gay sex is harder on the body than human biology can continue to tolerate. If the cancers alluded to occur in the groin, rectum, or liver, then gay sexual acts must come under scrutiny. A second precipitator is likely emotional: sustained depression that afflicts the person's immunity. Neither of these is caused by a third party's casual disapproval (intense disapproval tends to express itself as bodily harm). Both are inherent to the nature and practice of the relationships involved.

But I understand: "gay acts as carcinogens" is harmful to politically-correct propaganda, so let's discount the connection instead. Hide the truth, and rack up the victims.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L6 years ago

This study doesn't give anything concreate.

Bruce V.

This sounds like more Republican/ Tea Party propaganda/ study. An all out radical Chirstian policy jammed down peoples throats. Racism/ gender bias and science don't mix.

Jon Hoy
Jonjon Hoy6 years ago

It's not just a set gender that has this problem. It's in all genders and depends on how one takes care of themselves. Stress is a major factor in anyones life. This article should of stated all genders and not just on target subject.

Jon Hoy
Jonjon Hoy6 years ago

It's not just a set gender that has this problem. It's in all genders and depends on how one takes care of themselves. Stress is a major factor in anyones life. This article should of stated all genders and not just on target subject.