Cancer care for all Australians

Thursday 19 March, 2020

The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer people in Australia have come a long way since the first Mardi Gras march in Sydney in 1978. But while the Mardi Gras itself has become an international drawcard and celebration of LBTIQ+ pride, there is still a long way to go in achieving basic respect and fair treatment, even in cancer care, for sections of the community.

It is shocking enough to be given a diagnosis of cancer. When you do not have a doctor with a good understanding of your healthcare needs, when you are scared of being mistreated or when you have been refused health care, the challenge of coping with cancer is much harder.

In October last year, Cancer Council Victoria, in conjunction with La Trobe University, Rainbow Network and Transgender Victoria, launched TRANScending Discrimination in Health and Cancer Care.

This ground-breaking report, developed by Lucille Kerr, Christopher M. Fisher and Tiffany Jones at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, shines a stark light on the experiences of trans and gender-diverse Australians in general health care and cancer care.

Lucille Kerr  and her fellow researchers found that, within healthcare settings, 14% of the people surveyed had been verbally harassed, 6% had had unwanted sexual contact and 2% had been physically attacked.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said the report’s findings were alarming.

“This report clearly sets out why members of LGBTIQ+ communities, particularly trans and gender-diverse Australians, have poorer health outcomes than other Australians,” Mr Harper said.

“We need to do more to provide safe and inclusive information, prevention education and support services.

“We still have a lot to learn, but Cancer Council Victoria is committed to improving cancer outcomes for the LGBTIQ+ community.”

“He said, ‘I don’t treat your kind, I don’t know anything about you,’ and ... he was actually supposed to be arranging a colonoscopy for cancer, but I said to him, ‘what are you talking about? I’ve got the same organs as everyone else, my blood’s red, I’m not from another planet.’”

Trans-gender man, quoted in Kerr, Fisher and Jones: TRANScending Discrimination in Health and Cancer Care

Karen Mezentsef, chair of Cancer Council Victoria’s LGBTIQ+ committee said the launch of the report gave further momentum to existing work and was helping to inform the organisation’s strategic plan.

“Our Diversity and Inclusion Committee is leading Cancer Council Victoria’s drive towards equity in cancer care for all Victorians,” Ms Mezentsef said.

“We’ve undergone training through Rainbow Health Victoria’s HOW2 Program and are incorporating these learnings into our strategic plan to provide LGBTIQ+ culturally safe and inclusive practice across the organisation.”

“I cancelled all my post-operative appointments, never went back near them ... if I developed any form of symptoms of having cancer ... I wouldn’t go near a doctor. I wouldn’t dare. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to kill me.”

Trans man with BRCA gene mutation, quoted in Kerr, Fisher and Jones

Cancer Council Victoria is currently working to increase health literacy and reduce the risk of cancer in the LGBTIQ+ community through its prevention campaigns. This includes partnering with Thorne Harbour Health on a Public Cervix Announcement campaign to improve cancer screening rates and our annual QuitFlicks competition developed with Thorne Harbour Health and Minus18 to create engaging short films to reduce smoking rates.

Healthcare professionals can also access cancer screening information to reduce health inequity for LGBTIQ+ people through the Cancer Screening Resource Hub, developed by Cancer Council Victoria with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Our experienced cancer nurses are available to speak with anyone affected by cancer on 13 11 20 for cancer information and support.

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