Learn How to Advocate for Your Health Care as an LGBTQ+ Patient

June 12, 2024

Take Charge of Your Health Care This Pride Month

For many LGBTQ+ patients, health care can be more complicated than just going to the doctor and getting treatment.

You may be at higher risk for certain cancers and other health conditions.

LGBTQ+ patients are also more likely to report discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Fear of discrimination and difficulty affording care can make it especially challenging for LGBTQ+ patients to receive appropriate care.

As we celebrate Pride Month, we want you to have the tools you need to advocate for yourself and for allies to help support their LGBTQ+ loved ones.

Cancer Risks for LGBTQ+ Patients

LGBTQ+ patients have unique health needs and challenges that can place them at higher risk for certain cancers. These include:

  • Anal cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Colorectal cancer

Why is the risk for these cancers so high?

LGBTQ+ patients are more likely to have certain health conditions and other risk factors associated with these types of cancers.

For example, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men are at higher risk for HIV, which puts them at higher risk for anal cancer. Most cases of anal and cervical cancer are linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV).

LGBTQ+ patients are also less likely to have a primary care physician. They may have difficulty affording care and are less likely to undergo certain cancer screenings for different reasons.

Many LGBTQ+ patients report discrimination or that their health care providers lack knowledge about specific LGBTQ+ health topics.

While health institutions continue to learn more about what their LGBTQ+ patients need, it’s important for providers to know what cancer screenings are appropriate. For example, your health care provider may recommend you undergo anal cancer screening with an anal Pap test.

Empower Each Other Through Advocacy

Ending discrimination against LGBTQ+ patients will require the entire health care system to change, but there are several things LGBTQ+ patients and allies can do at the next appointment. These include:

  • Sharing your sexual orientation, gender identity and pronouns with your provider: Along with other personal information, this can help your care team understand exactly the right type of care you need.
  • Understanding – and asking about – cancers you are at risk for: Make sure you know what cancers you could be at risk for and ask your provider about prevention. Depending on your history and risk factors, you could be eligible for certain screenings.
  • Asking your provider about vaccinations: See if you have already received (or should receive) the HPV vaccine, which can help prevent certain cancers including cervical, oral and anal cancer.
  • Knowing your status: Ask about HIV testing, prevention and treatment options. You should also ask if you should take medication to help prevent HIV, including pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP.
  • Asking your provider for help making lifestyle changes: Reducing your alcohol intake, stopping smoking, managing stress and achieving a healthy weight can help lower your risk for certain cancers.

All patients should schedule regular checkups, get the recommended screenings and get the right vaccinations. Checking in on your LGBTQ+ family, friends, and loved ones can also help support each other. 

Beth Israel Lahey Health (BILH) cherishes the contributions our LGBTQ+ patients and staff have made to our hospitals and communities. We wish the entire LGBTQ+ community a happy and healthy Pride Month!

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