Gay Men Diagnosed With Cancer at Higher Rates, Researchers Say
By Elizabeth Lopatto - Bloomberg, May 9, 2011 12:00 AM ET|
Merck & Co.'s Gardasil vaccine, approved in 2006 for the human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer in women, also was cleared in December to prevent anal cancer and precancerous lesions. Photographer: JB Reed/Bloomberg
Gay men get cancer almost twice as often as heterosexual men, and lesbian and bisexual women who are cancer survivors reported being less healthy than heterosexual women who had the disease.
The greater prevalence of cancer among gay men may be caused by an excess risk of anal cancer, and may also reflect the higher rate of HIV infection, which is linked to certain cancers, according to the report in the journal Cancer.
The results show the greatest need for intervention is in cancer prevention and detection in gay men, according to the study authors. In addition, lesbian and bisexual cancer survivors should be targeted to improve their health outcomes.
" This information can be used for the development of services for the lesbian, gay, and bisexual population," said the study's lead author, Ulrike Boehmer, an associate professor at Boston University's School for Public Health, in a statement.
Merck & Co.'s Gardasil vaccine approved in 2006 for the human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer in women, also was cleared in December to prevent anal cancer and precancerous lesions.
The study used data from the California Health Interview survey from 2001, 2003, and 2005. A total of 7,252 women and 3,690 men reported cancer diagnoses as adults.
Of the 51,000 men surveyed, 5 percent of straight men were diagnosed with cancer, compared with 8.3 percent of gay men. Cancer rates didn't differ significantly by sexual orientation among the 71,000 women included in the survey.
Among the female cancer survivors, 73 percent of heterosexual women reported excellent, very good, or good health. In lesbian women, that number was 66 percent, and in bisexual women, 60 percent, according to the study.
Are gay men more at risk for cancer?
By Genevra Pittman
NEW YORK | Mon May 9, 2011 1:28am EDT
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - More gay men reported being cancer survivors than straight men in a new study from California.
That suggests they may need targeted interventions to prevent cancer, the researchers said, but more studies are needed to answer lingering questions. For example, are gay men more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than straight men? Or, are they just more likely to survive if they do get cancer?
"A lack of hard data" on how sexual orientation affects the risk of cancer is "one of the biggest problems we have," said Liz Margolies, executive director of The National LGBT Cancer Network. Margolies, who was not involved in the research, told Reuters Health, "It's critical that we know that for funding and for program planning."
As a step toward addressing the lack of data, researchers looked at three years of responses to the California Health Interview survey, which included more than 120,000 adults living in the state.
Among other health-related questions, participants were asked if they had ever been diagnosed with cancer and whether they identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight.
The findings are published in the journal Cancer.
Out of 51,000 men, about 3,700 said they had been diagnosed with cancer as an adult. While just over 8 percent of gay men reported a history of cancer, that figure was only 5 percent in straight men. The disparity could not be attributed to differences in race, age, or income between gay and straight men.
About 7,300 out of 71,000 women in the study had been diagnosed with cancer, but overall cancer rates did not differ among lesbian, bisexual, and straight women.
However, among women who were cancer survivors, lesbian and bisexual women were more likely to report fair or poor health than straight women.
Ulrike Boehmer, the study's lead author from the Boston University School of Public Health, said higher rates of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may be related to the increased risk of cancer in gay men, but the study couldn't address that question specifically.
Margolies thinks there is more going on. "Gay men as a group have a bunch of risk factors for cancer," she said.
For instance, gay men and lesbian women are more likely to smoke and abuse alcohol than straight men and women. They're also more likely to avoid going to see their doctor for routine physicals or cancer screening, Margolies added - since healthcare providers may not all be tolerant and accepting of their identity.
"I don't think that we're going to get people to have early screening or see doctors except in emergencies ... until they can be guaranteed a safe and welcoming experience" at the doctor's office, she said.
Margolies said that while the new findings are "very important," she cautions about generalizing them too far beyond this individual study. Partially that's because she suspects lesbian women may also have an increased risk of cancer compared to straight women, because they have some of the same risk factors as gay men.
But Margolies and Boehmer agree that there is still an important message to take away from the findings: gay, lesbian and bisexual people need more attention from the healthcare community, specifically when it comes to their cancer risks.
"Because more gay men report as cancer survivors, we need foremost programs for gay men that focus on primary cancer prevention and early cancer detection," Boehmer told Reuters Health in an email.
And, "Because more lesbian and bisexual women than heterosexual women with cancer report that they are in poor health, we need foremost programs and services that improve the well-being of lesbian and bisexual cancer survivors," she added.
"Health care facilities and social service agencies -- any organization that addresses the needs of cancer survivors -- must understand the extra challenges that lesbian and bisexual cancer survivors and gay men have," Margolies concluded.
Gay men 'report higher cancer rate than straight men'
9 May 2011
Two men Gay men are twice as likely to have had cancer, a study says
Homosexual men are more likely to have had cancer than heterosexual men, a US study has suggested.
The study of more than 120,000 people in California has led to calls for more specialist support.
Lesbians and bisexual women also had poorer health after cancer than heterosexuals, according to research published in the journal Cancer.
Cancer Research UK said more research was needed as the reasons for any difference were unclear.
In the 2001, 2003 and 2005 California Health Interview surveys, a total of 3,690 men and 7,252 women said they had been diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.
Out of the 122,345 people interviewed, 1,493 men and 918 women described themselves as gay, while 1,116 women said they were bisexual.
Gay men were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with cancer as straight men and, on average, it happened a decade earlier.
There was no such link in women.
Survival or risk?
The survey interviews "survivors" so is not a true representation of the number of cancer cases.
Some patients will have died before the survey and others would have been too ill to take part.
"It could be down to better survival or higher rates of cancer among gay men"
Jessica Harris Cancer Research UK
Dr Ulrike Boehmer, from the Boston University School of Public Health, said it was not possible to conclude "gay men have a higher risk of cancer" because the underlying reasons for the higher incidence could be more complicated.
Further research would be needed to determine if homosexual men were actually getting more tumours or had greater survival rates, she said.
The authors speculate that the difference in the numbers of cancer survivors could be down to the higher rate of anal cancer in homosexual men or HIV infection, which has been linked to cancer.
Jason Warriner, clinical director for HIV and sexual health at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "We know that HIV can cause certain types of cancer, and that gay men are at a greater risk of HIV than straight men.
"Another factor potentially having an impact is Human Papilloma Virus, which can lead to anal cancer in gay men.
"The government currently runs a national vaccination programme for young girls, but we think recent figures on oral and anal cancers justify taking another look at whether the programme should be extended to include boys."
Jessica Harris, senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "There is already evidence of some health inequalities as a result of sexuality, for example, smoking rates are higher in homosexual men and women than in heterosexual people.
"In this Californian survey, gay men were more likely than straight men to say they had been diagnosed with cancer, but it's not clear from this study why this might be.
"It could be down to better survival or higher rates of cancer among gay men and we'd need larger studies that take both of these factors into account to find out."
Looking at the health of patients who survived cancer also showed differences based on sexual orientation.
Lesbian and bisexual women were more than twice as likely as heterosexual women to say they were in "fair or poor health".
This effect did not appear in men.
Dr Boehmer said: "One common explanation for why lesbian and bisexual women report worse health compared to heterosexual women is minority stress [which] suggests lesbian and bisexual women have worse health, including psychological health due to their experiences of discrimination, prejudice, and violence."
She called for more services to "improve the well-being of lesbian and bisexual cancer survivors" and for programs which "focus on primary cancer prevention and early cancer detection" in homosexual men.