Leveling the Playing Field for LGBT Patients

The National LGBT Cancer Network is making cancer screenings more available to a high-risk, underserved population.
Imagine that you find a lump under your skin, or that you’re having trouble breathing, or are in pain. You’re afraid you might have a serious health problem — possibly cancer — but you’re also reluctant to go to the doctor. 

Why might you postpone or avoid contact with the health care system? Maybe you can’t afford health insurance or a have a history of negative experiences with hospitals and doctors.

So you keep putting off that doctor’s appointment, and, potentially, you keep getting sicker.

That’s the experience of many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, who, according to studies, face a greater risk of getting cancer due to risk factors like tobacco and alcohol use, yet are less likely to seek and benefit from health care. Ultimately, this could mean that cancer is picked up at a later stage, when it is more difficult to treat.

The National LGBT Cancer Network aims to change that dangerous dynamic with its Take Care of That Body campaign.

The online campaign aims to educate members of the LGBT community about their potentially increased cancer risk due to health care barriers and behaviors that can result from stigma and discrimination — such as smoking and eating high-fat foods — and then encourage timely cancer screenings at LGBT-welcoming facilities.

“The LGBT community is disproportionately affected by cancer, and few people in the community know that, so this is an education program,” says Liz Margolies, L.C.S.W, executive director of the National LGBT Cancer Network. “Part of what keeps people from getting screened is that they don’t know they’re at higher risk, or they can’t find, or believe they can find, a facility they can trust. So we’re providing them with both.”

The Cancer Network also offers LGBT support groups for those who have already been diagnosed with cancer.

How the Program Works

Launched in 2010 and partially funded by the New York State Department of Health, where the Network is based, the Take Care of That Body program has three arms, all accessible online at cancer-network.org/screening.php. These allow visitors to create a personalized cancer risk report; find LGBT-friendly screening facilities through a searchable, state-by-state directory; and sign up for text or email reminders about when they should next be screened.

“We know that many people use the program, but they don’t all use all three pieces,” Margolies says. “Some skip the risk assessment and come to the website just to find culturally competent cancer screening facilities. We can see that people are using the directory, and it’s OK if they don’t do all the steps. We are here to offer information.”

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