UBC’s Mary Bryson on how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities experience breast and gynecological cancers.
Mary Bryson, Director and Professor, Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice, is leading Cancer’s Margins, a nationwide-project on how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities experience breast and gynecological cancers. Her work has found that members of LGBT communities face challenges when it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and one of the things your team will be doing is encouraging the LGBT community to get screened for breast cancer. Why is that?
Breast cancer awareness promotion campaigns, screening events and environments almost always omit transgender people even though people in both transgender populations have specific risks for breast and gynecologic cancers. Transgender Canadians are in a much higher risk group for many cancers and are likely to experience discrimination at health clinics generally, and screening clinics in particular. Few transgender men have the opportunity to participate in breast cancer (or gynecological) screening. All in all, paying attention to sexuality and gender marginality saves lives, improves cancer healthcare and outcomes and ameliorates the design and delivery of social support for the people caring for LGBT cancer patients.
How might someone who identifies as part of the LGBT population experience breast cancer differently than a heterosexual patient?
There are more people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer and as transgender (LGBT) in the Canadian population (and globally) than ever before. Yet most clinics and physicians have not changed their ways of taking a medical history, including making changes that would be very simple and effective like changing or adding responses to intake forms.
The Cancer’s Margins research project is Canada’s first nationally funded LGBT cancer research project. Our findings provide compelling evidence that patients’ sexual and/or gender identity or their chosen family makeup are not taken into consideration as part of the delivery of culturally competent care.
There is a risk of both stigma and invisibility that intensifies already-existing patterns of non-disclosure on the part of patients, and avoidance of opportunities for early diagnosis like cancer screening. The fact that LGBT Canadians are less likely to have a family doctor means that basic health indicators are not monitored. And we know that screening will allow for earlier diagnosis and cancer treatments that afford fewer lifelong side effects and lower mortality.