A new study of 120,000 people in California has found that gay men have a higher prevalence of cancer compared with straight men, although the reasons are unclear.
It also found that lesbian and bisexual female cancer survivors claim to have worse health than their straight counterparts.
Cancer surveillance studies don’t usually ask questions about sexual orientation, which means there is scarce information about how many cancer survivors identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
Hoping to fill this information gap, Dr. Ulrike Boehmer, of the Boston University School of Public Health and her colleagues examined the prevalence of cancer survival by sexual orientation in California. They also investigated how the health of cancer survivors differs depending on sexual orientation.
The researchers found that gay men were almost twice as likely to report a cancer diagnosis than heterosexual men. Male cancer survivors’ self-reported health did not significantly differ by sexual orientation.
No significant differences in cancer prevalence by sexual orientation were found among women, but lesbian and bisexual female cancer survivors were 2.0 and 2.3 times more likely to report fair or poor health compared with heterosexual female cancer survivors.
It is unclear if the results mean that gay men are more likely to get cancer or if gay men are more likely to survive their cancer. Boehmer said that more research will be required to understand what the results actually mean.
She said, however, that the information can be used for the development of services for the lesbian, gay, and bisexual population.
“Because more gay men report as cancer survivors, we need foremost programs for gay men that focus on primary cancer prevention and early cancer detection. Because more lesbian and bisexual women than heterosexual women with cancer report that they are in poor health, we need foremost programs and services that improve the well-being of lesbian and bisexual cancer survivors,” said Boehmer.
The study was published in the online version of Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society.