A diagnosis of cancer can be difficult for any person to deal with. Research has shown that the outcomes of cancer and its treatment can be different for LGBTQI+ people.
How you might feel
After a cancer diagnosis and throughout treatment, it’s common to feel a range of strong emotions including anger, fear, anxiety, sadness, grief and resentment. Research shows that LGBTQI+ people have a greater risk of mental and emotional distress after a cancer diagnosis for several reasons.
You may feel anxious about coming out to health professionals, fear being discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, gender or intersex variation, or worry about how cancer and its treatment will affect your identity or relationships.
Some people have faced stigma and shame for being LGBTQI+ and may blame themselves for getting cancer or feel judged by others.
For more information and your coping toolbox, check out our Emotions and Cancer section.
Diversity of experience
As well as their sexual orientation, gender and sex characteristics, each person is shaped by their age, race, language, culture, spirituality, disability, education, relationships and financial situation, plus where they live and any previous experiences with the health system.
These factors can overlap to affect health and wellbeing, as well as cancer care. Aside from discrimination for being LGBTQI+, some people may also have had to deal with ageism, sexism, racism or disability discrimination. Other people may find it difficult to merge different aspects of their identity (e.g., being young, trans) or work out how to communicate their needs to health services.
Some LGBTQI+ communities may have specific experiences that affect their health and wellbeing. Examples include:
- Transgender and gender-diverse people are less likely to access mainstream services because of transphobic attitudes, often have past experiences of misgendering and difficulties getting gender-affirming treatment
- Intersex people may have past negative experiences with health professionals, including prior surgery to make them “fit” society’s idea of what it is to be male or female, having had medically unnecessary surgery as a child without their consent, or dealing with health professionals’ lack of knowledge about intersex variations.
- Young people may have higher rates of distress because of being bullied at school, rejected by family members, or still being in the process of coming out.
- Older people would have likely grown up at a time when being homosexual was considered an illness or a crime and may have experienced discrimination, family rejection and social isolation.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people Brother boys or sister girls may face added discrimination from being both LGBTQI+ and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (from the wider community, their own community, or both).
- Culturally and linguistically diverse people and refugees may face discrimination from within their community as well as the LGBTQI+ communities, leading to feelings of stigma and shame.
- People with disability may face discrimination from being both LGBTQI+ and a person with disability, which may lead to difficulties accessing services and having their sexual orientation, sexual needs or gender recognised.
- People living in regional or rural areas may be more socially isolated, less supported to come out, and have less access to LGBTQI+ specific services.
Fear of discrimination
Some LGBTQI+ people have experienced discrimination because of their sexual orientation, gender or intersex variation, and fear being discriminated against during their cancer care.
Discrimination can take many forms, such as inappropriate comments, receiving a lesser standard of care, and excluding your partner/s from discussions or your hospital room. These types of behaviour can affect your physical and mental health and are against the law in Australia.
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The chief investigators on the project were Prof Jane Ussher, Prof Janette Perz, Prof Martha Hickey, Prof Suzanne Chambers, Prof Gary Dowsett, Prof Ian Davis, Prof Katherine Boydell, Prof Kerry Robinson and Dr Chloe Parton. Partner investigators were Dr Fiona McDonald and A/Prof Antoinette Anazodo. Research Associates were Dr Rosalie Power, Dr Kimberley Allison and Dr Alexandra J. Hawkey.
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The information on this webpage was adapted from LGBTQI+ People and Cancer (2023 edition). This webpage was last updated in December 2023.