MONDAY, May 9 (HealthDay News) -- A new study finds that
homosexual men are twice as likely as other males to have been
diagnosed with and then survive a cancer, shining a light on the
unique medical risks that gay people may face.
It's not the first time that researchers have noted differences
in health risks linked to sexual orientation. Gay men, of course,
are at higher risk of becoming infected with HIV, while lesbians
may be more likely than heterosexual women to get breast cancer.
Both gay men and lesbians have higher rates of tobacco use than the
general population, and research has shown that lesbians drink more
and are more prone to obesity than other women.
The new study adds to existing knowledge, but "there's a painful
dearth of data about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health
in general," noted Liz Margolies, executive director of the
National LGBT Cancer Network, who's familiar with the new
In the new study, published online May 9 in
Cancer, researchers examined surveys involving more than 122,000 California residents from 2001, 2003 and 2005. Among other things, the surveys asked about sexual orientation and whether the participants had ever been diagnosed with cancer.
About 8 percent of the gay men in the group reported having had
cancer -- almost double the rate among the heterosexual and
bisexual men surveyed.
Lesbians didn't have a higher rate of cancer than other women,
but lesbian cancer survivors were about twice as likely to report
that they had fair or poor health compared to heterosexual
The study can't say whether gays and lesbians are more likely to
develop cancer in the first place, since it doesn't include
people who have died from the disease or may be too ill to answer
questions, stressed study author Ulrike Boehmer, an associate
professor of community health sciences at Boston University School
of Public Health.
Experts already believe that gay men face a higher risk of anal,
lung, testicular and immune-system cancers, she said. For their
part, lesbians are thought to possibly be at higher risk of breast
cancer, perhaps because many of them don't give birth.
But firm statistics are hard to find. "I can't tell you if we
have an increased rate of lung cancer, because no national cancer
registries are collecting information about sexual orientation,"
Margolies said. "We're left hidden in that data, which is critical
for us to have. We know that white women are more likely to be
diagnosed with breast cancer and black women more likely to die
from it. That's important to know, and we need to know similar
things so we can get funding and set up programs that address our
While things are changing, she added, another long-standing
challenge for gays has been an unwelcoming atmosphere in many
medical offices. "Until we can guarantee a safe, respectful and
welcoming experience, we're not going to show up," she said.
There's more on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender health at
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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