Cancer support for LGBTQI+ communities
From diagnosis to treatment and beyond, the experience of having cancer is different for everyone and can affect every aspect of your life. This section discusses how to manage the practical, physical and emotional challenges of cancer, and ways to find inclusive cancer care.
Reducing your risk
The causes of many cancers are unknown, but some factors may increase your risk. Healthcare professionals should adopt welcoming and safe health care practices to create environments where every person feels affirmed, validated and free from judgment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Many people feel shocked and upset when told they have cancer. You may have specific concerns or questions about how your sexual orientation, gender, and/or sex characteristics will affect your treatment and your interaction with health professionals.
Do I need to tell my cancer care team that I am LGBTQI+?
Knowing more about you and how your past experiences have affected your health, including issues around past trauma, sexuality, fertility and carer support, can help your cancer care team provide safe care that is appropriate to your situation. It also makes it easier to recognise and include same-gender partners.
You deserve cancer care that meets your needs. Person-centred care is care that treats you in the way you’d like to be treated and listens to your needs, preferences and values, as well as the needs of your family and carers. It means that you are an equal partner with your health care provider in planning your treatment and ongoing care (known as shared decision-making).
As part of person-centred care, it is important you feel comfortable and confident with your cancer care team. However, research shows that many LGBTQI+ people do not disclose their sexual orientation, gender or sex characteristics to health professionals for fear of discrimination or harassment.
What details could I disclose?
Many health professionals are experienced in talking about health issues confidentially. If the information is not already on your medical records and you think it is relevant to your cancer care, you may want to tell them about your:
- sexual orientation
- variations of sex characteristics
- medical history such as past surgeries, being on hormone blockers, hormone replacement therapy or taking gender-affirming hormones
- concerns about preserving fertility
- concerns about sex and intimacy
- any history of trauma, including medical trauma.
You may be reluctant to disclose these details, especially if previous bad experiences have affected your trust in health professionals or you are not “out” in all areas of your life. But being open and honest with your cancer care team:
- helps them consider all possibilities when trying to diagnose the cause of your symptoms (such as ovarian cancer in a trans man)
- ensures they have all the information they need to offer informed and safe care for you
- means they can connect you with support services that are right for you and your family.
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide how much information you share with others. You may choose to tell only health professionals you see regularly for treatment or check-ups.
What can I expect as an LGBTQI+ person with cancer?
In Australia, everyone has the right to safe and competent health care; the right to be free from unlawful discrimination; the right to accept or refuse treatment; and the right to privacy and confidentiality.
This means your health providers should:
- respect your body, sexual orientation and gender
- respect your partner/s and family
- listen to and respect your treatment goals
- respond to your care needs, preferences and values
- involve you in decisions about your treatment and ongoing care
- only collect or disclose your health information to others with your consent, or as required by law.
After a diagnosis of cancer, you need to make many decisions. To help you get the best outcome, it is important that you take an active role in your care and feel able to ask questions.
How can I find LGBTQI+ friendly cancer services?
LGBTQI+ friendly health services create an environment that feels safe and is supportive, respectful and non-judgemental. They don’t make assumptions about pronouns, your body, partners and families of choice. This is known as culturally safe care.
Connecting with a health service that focuses on the needs of LGBTQI+ people will mean you can trust them to support you. They should include anyone you wish to be part of your care plan, including your partner/s, family or chosen family.
Where you live might affect availability of LGBTQI+ friendly health services. Finding services that are welcoming and inclusive may be more difficult in regional and rural areas. You have the right to go somewhere else if you don’t feel comfortable with the service.
- Look for signs of inclusion: These can include LGBTQI+ flags, rainbow ticks, posters and photos or statements about the service’s commitment to LGBTQI+ communities. You may find these on the service’s website or in their window or waiting rooms.
- Find out about their experience and policies: Call or email the service to ask if they regularly see LGBTQI+ people and have an anti-discrimination policy. You could ask if any of their staff are LGBTQI+. It may be easier for a friend or family member to ask these questions.
- Ask for recommendations: Your friends may know of services that are LGBTQI+ friendly. Ask what they liked and didn’t like. If you have an LGBTQI+ friendly GP, ask them to refer you to a supportive cancer specialist.
- Use DocDir website: This website lists doctors and mental health professionals who are welcoming and safe for LGBTQI+ communities, and knowledgeable about their unique health needs and concerns. Visit docdir.org.au.
- Check forms and website: Before your appointment, check whether intake forms ask about sexual orientation, gender and intersex variations, and pronouns. Check the website for inclusive language and details about training or accreditation.
- Trust your judgement: Sometimes you might just have a feeling about whether a health professional or service will be right for you. It’s okay to trust your instincts.
What do I do if I don’t feel comfortable with my cancer care team?
Finding health professionals you trust is important at all stages, from diagnosis and treatment to follow-up care. You shouldn’t miss out on treatments, help with side effects, or follow-up appointments because you’ve had a bad experience in the past.
You may feel that everything is happening too fast and that you don’t have the time to get a second opinion. Check with your cancer specialist how soon treatment should begin and how much time you have to make decisions. You can get a second opinion or change your doctor even if you have started treatment.
If you are treated as a public patient in a public hospital, you will be seen by the specialist/s appointed by the hospital. If you have concerns, you may be able to talk to the head of the department, a patient representative or a patient advocate. Some hospitals have an LGBTQI+ patient navigator. This person provides culturally safe support to LGBTQI+ people and advises health professionals about inclusive care. Look for their details on the hospital’s website. To find organisations that may help you navigate the health system as an LGBTQI+ person, visit qlife.org.au/resources/directory.
You have the right to make a complaint about any aspect of your health care. This applies whether you are treated in a public or private hospital or treatment centre, or if you see a practitioner in a private clinic. You can usually find details about the complaints process on the health care facility’s website. You can also check with the cancer care coordinator, nursing unit manager or social worker, or one of the nurses looking after you. If you are unhappy about the ethical or professional conduct of a health service provider, you can contact the health complaints organisation in your state or territory.
Where can I get support?
Most people going through cancer find it helpful to have support from others. This can include your family, friends or wider community. You might lean on your partner/s or chosen family for support and comfort, particularly if you have limited or no contact with your family of origin. Not everyone feels they need support from others; some people are happy to manage alone.
Ways to find support include:
- Speak to your general practitioner (GP), social worker, psychologist and other health professionals. They can link you with local services.
- Contact QLife on 1800 184 527 or visit qlife.org.au to connect with others in a safe space.
- Use the member directory compiled by LGBTIQ+ Health Australia to find good sources of support. Visit lgbtiqhealth.org.au.
- Chat with other young people aged 12–25 diagnosed with cancer at canteenconnect.org.au.
- Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or visit the Online Community at cancercouncil.com.au/OC.
Join our Community Advisory Network
If you’ve been affected by cancer – as a patient, cancer survivor or carer – you can draw upon your experience to share your story, help others, give back, and be heard.
Information about cancer
This section will help you understand how cancer and its treatment may affect LGBTQI+ people - lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other diverse sexualities and genders, as well as people with intersex variations.
There are many sources of support and information to help you, your chosen family and carers. You may find some of the below cancer information resources for LGBTQI+ people helpful, all from trusted organisations.
Cancer resources for LGBTQI+ people
Breast Cancer Network Australia information for same sex partners
Prostate cancer information
Our 13 11 20 cancer nurses have undergone cultural awareness training to ensure that all people affected by cancer get access to the appropriate, sensitive support that they need.