Challenges LGBTQI+ people may face
From diagnosis to treatment and beyond, the experience of having cancer is different for everyone. It affects every aspect of your life, including the way you look and feel, how you have sex and if you can get pregnant.
Learn more about:
For LGBTQI+ people, extra challenges may include physical changes that impact your sense of identity, and practical issues such as getting appropriate cancer screening and hospital care. Support networks may be different because of limited contact, or no contact, with family of origin.
Instead, you may rely on close friends (chosen family) for support.
Many LGBTQI+ people have experienced discrimination and had other negative experiences throughout their lives because of their sexual orientation, gender and/or sex characteristics. If you have experienced discrimination or been refused health care in the past, this may mean you do not feel safe seeking health care or disclosing information needed for treating cancer holistically.
We discuss how to manage these practical, physical and emotional issues, and ways to find inclusive cancer care.
In Australia, about 151,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year (excluding common skin cancers). It is estimated that LGBTQI+ people make up 5% of Australia’s population. This means it’s likely that over 7500 LGBTQI+ people are diagnosed with cancer each year, and approximately 23,000 are cancer survivors.
Language and terms we use
The words used to describe sexual orientation, gender and sex characteristics change constantly, and you may not use the terms we’ve used in this section.
Sexual orientation – How a person thinks about their sexual identity, how they behave and the people they are attracted to. Examples include heterosexual, gay man, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual and asexual.
Gender – Whether a person is a man, woman, agender, genderqueer, genderfluid, or a combination of one or more of these things. Gender can be binary (man or woman) or non-binary. Gender may align with the sex assigned for a person at birth (cisgender) or it may be different (transgender).
Sex characteristics – This refers to a person’s physical characteristics, including genitals, gonads (ovaries and testicles), reproductive organs, hormonal patterns and chromosomal patterns. Sex characteristics can change over a person’s lifetime and may be different from the sex assigned at birth.
Intersex – This is an umbrella term used to describe innate bodily variations in sex characteristics that don’t match the typical understanding of female or male bodies. Older terms for intersex variations include differences or disorders of sex development.
Challenges you might face
Research shows that as an LGBTQI+ person diagnosed with cancer you may have to deal with a number of unique challenges, including:
- health professionals making assumptions about your sexual orientation, gender and sex characteristics, which can make you feel invisible
- anxiety about coming out as LGBTQI+ and fear of negative reactions from health professionals (see Coping with cancer).
- higher levels of depression and anxiety because of a history of marginalisation, violence, stigma, exclusion and discrimination (sometimes called minority stress)
- difficulty having your partner/s or other significant people recognised as your family
- less or no support from your family of origin
- little or no LGBTQI+ specific cancer information or support
- lack of knowledge among health professionals about issues specific to LGBTQI+ people.
Intersex people and cancer
Much of this information focuses on the experience of people with marginalised sexualities and gender identities. Intersex people who are cisgender and heterosexual may prefer to read information specific to intersex people and then refer to our general cancer information resources. General information is also available from Intersex Human Rights Australia.
Podcast for people affected by cancer
The information on this page is also available for download.
We thank the chief investigators from the Out with Cancer research project: 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.
We thank the reviewers of our LGBTQI+ People and Cancer booklet: Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Heath Psychology and Chief Investigator, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; ACON; Dr Kimberley Allison, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Dr Katherine Allsopp, Supportive and Palliative Care Specialist, Westmead Hospital, NSW; A/Prof Antoinette Anazodo OAM, Paediatric and Adolescent Oncologist, Sydney Children’s Hospital, NSW; Megan Bathgate, Consumer; Gregory Bock, Clinical Nurse Consultant–Oncology Coordinator, Urology Cancer Nurse Coordination Service, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, WA; Morgan Carpenter, Executive Director, Intersex Human Rights Australia (formerly OII Australia); Prof Lorraine Chantrill, Medical Co-Director Cancer Services, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; A/Prof Ada Cheung, Endocrinologist, Head, Trans Health Research Group, Department of Medicine (Austin Health), The University of Melbourne, VIC; Bonney Corbin, Australian Women’s Health Network; Cristyn Davies, Research Fellow, Specialty of Child and Adolescent Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney and Children’s Hospital Westmead Clinical School, NSW; Prof Ian Davis, Professor of Medicine, Monash University and Eastern Health, Medical Oncologist, Eastern Health, Chair, ANZUP Cancer Trials Group, VIC; Rebecca Dominguez, President, Bisexual Alliance Victoria; Liz Duck-Chong, Projects Coordinator, TransHub and Trans Health Equity, ACON, NSW; Lauren Giordano, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Hall & Wilcox (law firm); Natalie Halse, BCNA Consumer Representative; Jem Hensley, Consumer; Prof Martha Hickey, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, The University of Melbourne, and Director of the Gynaecology Research Centre, The Women’s Hospital, VIC; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker – Gynaecological Cancer, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Dr Laura Kirsten, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW; Amber Loomis, Policy and Research Coordinator, LGBTIQ+ Health Australia; Julie McCrossin and Melissa Gibson, Consumers; Dr Fiona McDonald, Research Manager, Canteen, NSW; Dr Gary Morrison, Shine a Light (LGBTQIA+ Cancer Support Group); Penelope Murphy, Cancer Council NSW Liaison, Prince of Wales Hospital, NSW; Dr Rosalie Power, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Jan Priaulx, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Paul Scott-Williams, Consumer; Simone Sheridan, Sexual Health Nurse Consultant, Sexual Health Services, Austin Health, VIC; Cheryl Waller and Rhonda Beach, Consumers.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.