After a cancer diagnosis, it’s common to have many questions.
Learn more about:
- Do I need to tell my cancer care team that I am LGBTQI+?
- What details could I disclose?
- What can I expect as an LGBTQI+ person with cancer?
- What can my family and carers expect?
- How can I find LGBTQI+ friendly cancer services?
- What can I do if I don’t feel comfortable with my cancer care team?
- Where can I get support?
- How can I spot an LGBTQI+ friendly service?
Do I need to tell my cancer care team that I am LGBTQI+?
Knowing more about you and how your past experiences have affected your health, including issues around past trauma, sexuality, fertility and carer support, can help your cancer care team provide safe care that is appropriate to your situation. It also makes it easier to recognise and include same-gender partners (for more on this, see Coping with cancer).
You deserve cancer care that meets your needs. Person-centred care is care that treats you in the way you’d like to be treated and listens to your needs, preferences and values, as well as the needs of your family and carers. It means that you are an equal partner with your health care provider in planning your treatment and ongoing care (known as shared decision-making).
As part of person-centred care, it is important you feel comfortable and confident with your cancer care team. However, research shows that many LGBTQI+ people do not disclose their sexual orientation, gender or sex characteristics to health professionals for fear of discrimination or harassment.
Much of this section 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 Cancer Council’s general cancer information resources. General information is also available from Intersex Human Rights Australia.
What details could I disclose?
Many health professionals are experienced in talking about health issues confidentially. If the information is not already on your medical records and you think it is relevant to your cancer care, you may want to tell them about your:
- sexual orientation
- variations of sex characteristics
- medical history such as past surgeries, being on hormone blockers, hormone replacement therapy or taking gender-affirming hormones
- concerns about preserving fertility
- concerns about sex and intimacy
- any history of trauma, including medical trauma.
You may be reluctant to disclose these details, especially if previous bad experiences have affected your trust in health professionals or you are not “out” in all areas of your life.
But being open and honest with your cancer care team:
- helps them consider all possibilities when trying to diagnose the cause of your symptoms (such as ovarian cancer in a trans man)
- ensures they have all the information they need to offer informed and safe care for you
- means they can connect you with support services that are right for you and your family.
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide how much information you share with others. You may choose to tell only health professionals you see regularly for treatment or check-ups. For more on this, see How to come out to your health professionals.
What can I expect as an LGBTQI+ person with cancer?
In Australia, everyone has the right to safe and competent health care; the right to be free from unlawful discrimination; the right to accept or refuse treatment; and the right to privacy and confidentiality.
This means your health providers should:
- respect your body, sexual orientation and gender
- respect your partner/s and family
- listen to and respect your treatment goals
- respond to your care needs, preferences and values
- involve you in decisions about your treatment and ongoing care
- only collect or disclose your health information to others with your consent, or as required by law.
After a diagnosis of cancer, you need to make many decisions. To help you get the best outcome, it is important that you take an active role in your care and feel able to ask questions.
For more general information on your legal rights, see Cancer care and your rights.
Each person’s experience of cancer is different, depending on the type of cancer, whether it has spread, their age and general health. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for free booklets and information about different cancer types and their treatments, or download copies from your local Cancer Council website here.
What can my family and carers expect?
Your family may include your partner, children, chosen family, or family of origin.
The Carer Recognition Act 2010 (Commonwealth) states that all carers have the same rights, regardless of sexuality or sex. All state and territory governments have also passed their own Act and policies.
This means that when carers access services and are at work, they have the right to:
- be treated with respect and considered as a partner by healthcare workers or providers
- privacy and confidentiality
- not be discriminated against at work because they are a carer
- ask for flexible working arrangements
- take leave when caring for family or household members.
Partners or carers of LGBTQI+ people may face discrimination or lack of recognition of their relationship. Your cancer care team may assume a partner is a friend and exclude them from discussions and decisions about your care, and instead talk or look to your family of origin. If this is happening to you, see How to deal with discrimination.
All people who are married or live together as a de facto couple have the same rights. This means your spouse or partner/s can be involved in decisions about your treatment. In Australia, the term next of kin means a person’s spouse, domestic partner or closest living relative who is over 18 years of age. See also the Caring for someone with cancer.
I was completely open about being a lesbian with a life partner and two children. My wife, Melissa, was acknowledged and respected by my doctors and the team. This openness was important because I became very ill during treatment and lost the capacity to speak.JULIE (LESBIAN, OROPHARYNGEAL CANCER)
How can I find LGBTQI+ friendly cancer services?
LGBTQI+ friendly health services create an environment that feels safe and is supportive, respectful and non-judgemental. They don’t make assumptions about pronouns, your body, partners and families of choice. This is known as culturally safe care.
Connecting with a health service that focuses on the needs of LGBTQI+ people will mean you can trust them to support you. They should include anyone you wish to be part of your care plan, including your partner/s, family or chosen family.
Where you live might affect availability of LGBTQI+ friendly health services. Finding services that are welcoming and inclusive may be more difficult in regional and rural areas. You have the right to go somewhere else if you don’t feel comfortable with the service.
What can I do if I don’t feel comfortable with my cancer care team?
Finding health professionals you trust is important at all stages, from diagnosis and treatment to follow-up care. You shouldn’t miss out on treatments, help with side effects, or follow-up appointments because you’ve had a bad experience in the past.
Get a second opinion – You may feel that everything is happening too fast and that you don’t have the time to get a second opinion. Check with your cancer specialist how soon treatment should begin and how much time you have to make decisions. You can get a second opinion or change your doctor even if you have started treatment.
Ask for support – If you are treated as a public patient in a public hospital, you will be seen by the specialist/s appointed by the hospital. If you have concerns, you may be able to talk to the head of the department, a patient representative or a patient advocate. Some hospitals have an LGBTQI+ patient navigator. This person provides culturally-safe support to LGBTQI+ people and advises health professionals about inclusive care. Look for their details on the hospital’s website. To find organisations that may help you navigate the health system as an LGBTQI+ person, visit qlife.org.au/resources/directory.
Consider making a complaint – You have the right to make a complaint about any aspect of your health care. This applies whether you are treated in a public or private hospital or treatment centre, or if you see a practitioner in a private clinic. You can usually find details about the complaints process on the health care facility’s website. You can also check with the cancer care coordinator, nursing unit manager or social worker, or one of the nurses looking after you. If you are unhappy about the ethical or professional conduct of a health service provider, you can contact the health complaints organisation in your state or territory.
If you think you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, gender or intersex variation, see Dealing with discrimination.
Where can I get support?
Most people going through cancer find it helpful to have support from others. This can include your family, friends or wider community. You might lean on your partner/s or chosen family for support and comfort, particularly if you have limited or no contact with your family of origin. Not everyone feels they need support from others; some people are happy to manage alone.
Ways to find support include:
- Speak to your general practitioner (GP), social worker, psychologist and other health professionals. They can link you with local services. Learn ways to identify an LGBTQI+ friendly support service.
- Contact QLife on 1800 184 527 to connect with others in a safe space.
- Use the member directory compiled by LGBTIQ+ Health Australia to find good sources of support.
- Chat with other young people aged 12–25 diagnosed with cancer at Canteen Connect.
- Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or visit the Online Community.
- Get practical and financial assistance.
For more general information on how to find support, see Emotions and cancer.
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.