About Cancer and the LGBTQ+ Community
Cancer is devastating for anyone, with its impact often affecting all aspects of a person’s life. However, the challenges of navigating a cancer diagnosis can be even more difficult for members of the LGBTQ+ community, who often face discrimination and disparities in health care.
Research on LGBTQ+ cancer disparities shows that sexual- and gender-minority patients report lower satisfaction with their medical care and treatment than those who identify as heterosexual or cisgender.
Not only do many of these individuals not have access to the same level of quality health care as those who do not identify as LGBTQ+, but the fear of discrimination may prevent them from seeking the treatment they need.
Additionally, LGBTQ+ cancer patients may not have the support of their family or feel like they don’t belong in mainstream support groups. This is especially true of transgender patients or those who live in rural areas.
Thankfully, there are many support resources that those in the LGBTQ+ community can rely on as they navigate a cancer diagnosis.
General LGBTQ+ Cancer Support Groups & Other Resources
Several national organizations support LGBTQ+ cancer patients by sharing information, conducting research, and providing helpful resources.
These groups include:
- Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA): GLMA is the largest and oldest association of LGBTQ+ and allied health care providers. The group conducts research to improve health outcomes for those in the community, advocates to promote inclusive health care policies, and educates medical professionals on LGBTQ+ health.
- National Coalition for LGBTQ Health: This group focuses on improving the health of LGBTQ+ individuals through advocacy, education, and research at the local and federal level.
- National LGBT Cancer Network: The website for this group offers a wide array of cancer support resources and runs peer-support groups over Zoom for LGBTQ+ people who have cancer or are survivors.
- National LGBT Cancer Project: Recognized as the nation’s first LGBTQ+ cancer survivor support and advocacy nonprofit, this organization runs an online support community called “Out With Cancer.”
- OutPatients: This organization provides online peer support meetings for LGBTQ+ individuals to talk openly about their experiences with cancer.
LGBTQ+ cancer patients may also benefit from getting help from a professional therapist or counselor. You can search for LGBTQ+ friendly therapists online or ask your cancer care team for recommendations.
Many cancer centers have social workers and therapists who can help patients come to terms with their diagnosis and navigate treatment.
Cancer Support Resources by LGBTQ+ Group
In addition to general resources that support all members of the LGBTQ+ community, some organizations provide support to specific groups within the LGBTQ+ umbrella.
Lesbian women face an increased risk of cancer since many fail to get preventative care, such as pap smears and mammograms.
Cancer resources for lesbians include:
- Lesbian Cancer Survivors and Caregivers: This Facebook support group provides a safe space for cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers to share their experiences.
- National LGBT Cancer Project: This national organization runs different support groups based on cancer diagnosis.
You can search social media for similar groups or look for support resources for women that are LGBTQ+ friendly.
Gay men are at an increased risk of certain cancers due to risk factors like tobacco use, drug and alcohol use, and HIV infection.
Cancer resources for gay men include:
- MaleCare: This group offers in-person and online support groups, including ones for gay and bisexual men with prostate cancer and breast cancer.
- Zero Prostate Cancer: This organization is dedicated to providing support for prostate cancer patients who are gay or bisexual men or transgender women.
Transgender individuals face one of the highest rates of discrimination in health care, so people in this group need access to culturally competent and informed cancer care.
Cancer resources for transgender people include:
- CoppaFeel!: This organization focuses on preventive screenings and education about breast cancer, including special resources for transgender and nonbinary individuals.
- Transgender Cancer Patient Project: This project provides informational articles and other resources aimed at destigmatizing patient experiences and degendering health care. It also has a library of zines (small, self-published works) written by transgender cancer patients.
- Transgender Cancer Network: Led by a transgender man with cancer, this Facebook group provides connection and community for transgender people battling cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the median age for a cancer diagnosis is 66.
Following a diagnosis, older community members may be less likely to get the medical care they need because of discrimination they’ve experienced in the past. They are also less likely to have children or other family to provide support.
Sage Advocacy & Services for LGBTQ+ Elders provides various support tools and resources, including ones on health care and caregiving, to LGBTQ+ elders. Sage also runs a national LGBTQ+ elder hotline available 24/7 that seniors in crisis can use to talk to a certified responder.
Tip: The American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery® program matches patients who have no way to get to treatment with volunteers who can drive them for free. Call 800-227-2345 to see if there are drivers in your area.
While cancer may be less common in children and young adults, it’s still a sad reality that requires specialized support.
For example, young people may still be learning about their sexual orientation and gender identity or are reluctant to come out to medical staff.
Cancer resources for LGBTQ youth include:
- Escape: The group provides resources for LGBTQ+ adolescents and young adult cancer patients and survivors.
- St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital: The hospital’s resource on LGBTQ Youth and Cancer has information that teens and young people can use to choose a pediatric cancer center, find support among their care team, and understand their privacy rights.
- Teenage Cancer Trust: This organization provides support to LGBTQ+ teenagers who have received a cancer diagnosis. The group is based in the United Kingdom, but it has resources on its website that could be helpful to any young person battling cancer.
LGBTQ+ cancer patients who are also veterans may face unique challenges that require special support or resources.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers health care resources for all veterans, including those who identify as LBGTQ+. This includes cancer screening, prevention, and treatment.
Every VA health care system has an LGBTQ+ Veteran Care Coordinator (VCC), who can help LGBTQ+ veterans get the care they need and advocate for their right to inclusive and affirming treatment. You can use the VA’s LGBTQ+ VCC Locator Tool to find a VCC in your state.
U.S. veterans are at risk of developing a rare but aggressive cancer called mesothelioma. In fact, veterans account for about 30% of all mesothelioma cases.
Caregivers are always at risk of stress and burnout, and caring for an LGBTQ+ individual with cancer can come with unique challenges. For example, LGBTQ+ individuals are less likely to have traditional family support.
Caregiver resources that may be helpful include:
- Family Caregiver Alliance: This nonprofit organization runs multiple support groups over Zoom for LGBTQ+ caregivers.
- LGBTQ Caregiver Center: Resources on the group’s website address the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ caregivers and those who provide care for LGBTQ+ individuals. Caregivers can share their story to help amplify LGBTQ+ caregiver experiences.
Additionally, AARP offers a comprehensive resource for LGBTQ+ caregiving.
Resources for LGBTQ+ Patients by Type of Cancer
It can be helpful to find support based on the specific type of cancer you have been diagnosed with.
Fight Colorectal Cancer, for example, provides support to those with colorectal cancer and offers special resources for the LGBTQ+ community.
Living Beyond Breast Cancer provides dedicated support to those with breast cancer who are lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or nonbinary by offering informational resources and personal stories from survivors.
Prostate Cancer and Gay, Bisexual Men & Transgender Women is a private Facebook group for those in the community affected by prostate cancer.
You can search the internet for resources specific to your type of cancer.
Finding LGBTQ+ Friendly Cancer Care
It’s not unusual for those in the community to be wary of medical professionals, especially if they’ve experienced discrimination in the past.
For that reason, it’s important to look for medical providers who will treat you with the dignity and respect that you deserve.
Here are 4 resources to help LGBTQ+ cancer patients find affirming care:
- Human Rights Campaign’s Healthcare Equality Index
- LGBTQ+ Healthcare Directory
- National LGBT Cancer Network’s Providers Directory
- OutCare’s OutList of Affirming Providers
Inspiring Books for LGBTQ+ Cancer Patients
Reading about someone like you who has overcome the obstacles that you’re facing can be incredibly inspiring. Many people who are influential in the LGBTQ+ community have not only battled cancer, but they’ve written about their experiences.
A few of these books are listed below:
- Kimiko Does Cancer: A Graphic Memoir by Kimiko Tobimatsu: This illustrated memoir was written by a queer, mixed-race woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the young age of 25.
- Please, Don’t Send Me Flowers: A Memoir by Lianne Saffer: This memoir chronicles Saffer’s experience of getting a divorce, coming out as lesbian, and being diagnosed with cancer all around the same time.
- Talking to My Angels by Melissa Etheridge: Etheridge tells the story of her life, including how she battled breast cancer and became a survivor.
- The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde: This memoir, written 18 months after the author’s mastectomy, explores breast cancer and how it affects those who are diagnosed with the disease.
The poet Andrea Gibson writes about their experiences battling ovarian cancer and chronic Lyme disease. You can find some of Gibson’s work on their website and sign up for their “Things That Don’t Suck” newsletter, in which they focus on the joys experienced while navigating a cancer diagnosis.