LGBTQI+ people and cancer risk
The causes of many cancers are unknown, but some factors may increase the risk if you’re LGBTQI+. Risk factors for intersex people depend on their specific variation. Cancer risk has often been used as a reason for medical treatment of intersex people during childhood.
Learn more about:
- Delaying or avoiding cancer screening
- Higher risk for smoking- and alcohol-related cancers
- Higher risk of HPV (human papillomavirus)
- Living with HIV
- Lower rates of pregnancy
Delaying or avoiding cancer screening
Research shows that many LGBTQI+ people delay or avoid screening. This may be because they think mammograms or cervical screening are not for them because of who they have sex with. Trans people may find screening uncomfortable and upsetting. Trans, gender-diverse and intersex people may not receive appropriate screening reminders. Missing screening tests may mean cancer is diagnosed at a later stage when it is harder to treat.
Cancer screening for LGBTQI+ people
Screening is organised testing to find cancer before any symptoms appear. Finding cancer early and when it hasn’t spread often makes it easier to treat. In Australia, there are screening programs for breast, cervical and bowel cancer. Most people who are in a certain age group and who have a Medicare card, will receive an invitation in the mail to get screened.
LGBTQI+ people may face several barriers to screening.
Ask your doctor what screening tests are right for your body. It is now possible to collect your own sample for the cervical screening test. This needs to be done at the doctor’s office. For more information on screening, visit Can We or transhub.org.au/cancer-screening.
Higher risk for smoking- and alcohol-related cancers
Studies show that there are higher rates of smoking and drinking alcohol among some LGBTQI+ people, often because of minority stress. These factors increase the risk of several cancers including breast, mouth, and bowel cancer. Smoking also increases the risk of lung and cervical cancers.
Higher risk of HPV (human papillomavirus)
This very common sexually transmitted infection causes many types of cancer, including cervical, anal, throat (oropharyngeal), penile, vulvar and vaginal. HPV can be passed on sexually, including by fingers and oral sex, or through sharing sex toys. The HPV vaccine can protect against the virus. For more information, visit hpvvaccine.org.au and The Bottom Line.
Living with HIV
Living with HIV/AIDS may make you more likely to develop some cancers. These are known as AIDS-defining cancers and include Kaposi sarcoma, aggressive B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma and cervical cancer. Some cancers are common in people living with HIV but are classified as non-AIDS-defining. They include anal, liver, oral cavity and pharynx and lung cancers, and Hodgkin lymphoma.
Lower rates of pregnancy
Pregnancy before age 30, breastfeeding and using oral contraceptives may all offer some protection from breast cancer and gynaecological cancers. Lesbian, bisexual and trans people are statistically less likely than cisgender heterosexual women to have a child before age 30. If you haven’t had children, you may not have breastfed or had a break in your menstrual cycle.
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.