A new study, led by a Boston University researcher, has found that women who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual have less access to healthcare after cancer treatment than heterosexual women.
The study, published in the journal “Cancer,” surveyed members of sexual minority groups who have a history of cancer to gauge their access to care, said Ulrike Boehmer, a reseacher at the Boston University School of Public Health who led the study. This specific study focused on cisgender individuals (a term used to describe a person who identifies with the gender assigned to them at birth). Boehmer specializes in research into health disparities facing LGBT people.
It took Boehmer four years to assemble enough survey data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System to conduct the study, which found that lesbians and bisexual women have poorer physical and mental quality of life after a cancer diagnosis. This is generally linked with higher mortality, the study found.
Metro Minute spoke with Boehmer about the study and why its findings are important. (Comments were edited for length and clarity.)
What were some major takeaways from this study?
Sexual minority women in particular have worse access to care after cancer diagnosis compared to heterosexual women. What I found very disturbing was that sexual minority men had similar access to care to heterosexual men. In this particular finding, we don’t really know the exact reasons why.
Why is this study important?
It speaks to several audiences. I hope to reach our clinicians with this study. There is this ongoing issue of sexual minorities not feeling welcome in the healthcare system and that might factor in delaying care or not seeking routine care. I think it’s important for clinicians to have conversations with patients about sexual orientation, their preferences, and possible barriers to stay engaged in care.
Have you looked at other aspects of identity, such as race, in your research?
This is something I have wanted to do for a very long time, to look at sexual minority individuals who are racial minorities, and see if the picture is even worse. We just don’t have the numbers in the data set. I think it’s a very important question that needs to be addressed urgently.
What can be done to help mitigate this issue?
There are certainly a lot of opportunities for further education of healthcare providers, such as feeling comfortable in engaging in conversations around sexual orientation, simply feeling comfortable to ask. Often it can be as simple as finding the right language around these issues. Ongoing provider education is certainly a good step.