Coffee with Komen – Breast Cancer and the LGBT Community

By Tiffany Kerrigan, MPH, C.H.E.S., Little Red Door Cancer Agency

June 1st marked the beginning of LGBT Pride Month, a time dedicated to celebrating LGBT rights and the LGBT community.  Though a time for celebration, it is important that we take time to understand unique challenges faced by the LGBT community in regards to cancer risk.

There are several barriers that adults in the LGBT community face when it comes to seeking health care services, which can directly impact cancer risk and diagnosis, including:

  • Low rates of health insurance
  • Fear of discrimination
  • Negative experience with health care providers

Many health insurance policies do not cover unmarried partners, adding to the low insurance coverage rates within the LGBT community.  For those with insurance, some may fear telling their health care providers about their sexual orientation due to the possibility of being discriminated against and receiving a lower quality of care. This, along with other negative experiences with providers, can make it challenging to have a comfortable relationship with a physician.

When it comes to breast cancer, studies have found that sexual orientation has an impact on women’s willingness to plan for a clinical breast exam (CBE) and mammogram.  Negative beliefs about mammography, lower levels of provider trust, and less perceived risk of breast cancer significantly impacts the intentions to get CBEs and mammograms among lesbian and bisexual women. Though some studies reveal similar screening rates among heterosexual, bisexual and lesbian women, small disparities in mammography still exist.

With only small disparities in screening rates, it’s fair to ask why the LGBT community faces a disproportionately greater risk of cancer. In addition to the barriers listed above, smoking and being overweight or obese directly impact cancer risk.  Nearly 24% of LGBT adults identify themselves as smokers, which is higher than the national average.  Furthermore, research shows that, overall, lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to be overweight and are less likely to consume the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.

The combination of these risk factors can lead to a greater incidence of cancer and later stage of diagnosis for people in the LGBT community.

With help from Susan G. Komen Central Indiana, Little Red Door Cancer Agency and other local programs are able to reach underserved populations, including the LGBT community, through events like the Circle City Pride Festival on June 10th. This year we are focusing our attention on prevention with education about factors that elevate risk for many cancers, including breast cancer, and modifiable behaviors that can lower your risk; such as tobacco cessation, nutrition and sun safety.

To learn more about how you can lower your risk for cancer, please visit our website. The staff at Little Red Door hope to see you at the Indy Pride Festival this weekend!

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