Sexually and gender diverse groups

Sexually and gender diverse groups

People who identify as sexually or gender diverse may have unique needs following a cancer diagnosis. Sexually or gender diverse identities include (but are not limited to) people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, collectively ‘LGBT’. There is no universally agreed upon initialism to describe this community, with other terms such as queer/questioning (Q), intersex (I), asexual (A) and pansexual (P) often included, as well as a plus symbol (+) indicating inclusivity of other identities not explicitly mentioned.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are relevant across the entire spectrum of cancer care, from prevention to survivorship and end-of-life care. LGBT people are less likely to participate in cancer screening, and some segments of the LGBT community exhibit elevated rates of specific cancer risk factors – for example, higher rates of smoking and alcohol use. Regarding treatment, there may be unique factors relevant to LGBT people that may affect decision making. Additionally, the LGBT population experiences higher rates of anxiety, depression and stressful life circumstances, and may be at risk of inferior psychosocial outcomes following a cancer diagnosis. LGBT people are also more likely to be estranged from their families of origin, and for older people, less likely to have adult children who may provide support and care.

Barriers to care for LGBT people include past negative interactions with healthcare systems, experiences or fear of discrimination and harassment in healthcare settings, assumptions of cisgender/heterosexual identity, lack of recognition or exclusion of same-sex partners from care, and a lack of relevant supportive care and information resources.

To provide safe and appropriate care for LGBT people with cancer, healthcare providers should:

  • display environmental cues to show an inclusive and safe setting for LGBT patients
  • avoid assumptions about the sexual orientation or gender identity of patients and their partners
  • facilitate positive disclosure of sexual orientation or gender identity
  • include same-sex/gender partners and families of choice in care
  • be aware of relevant supportive care and information resources
  • provide non-judgemental, patient-centred care.