Study finds LGBTQI people in cancer survivorship ‘surviving discrimination by pulling together’

A study led by Western Sydney University has shed new light on the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or intersex (LGBTQI) people in cancer survivorship.

The study published in Frontiers in Oncology found historical and present-day experiences of discrimination, violence, family rejection and exclusion created a legacy of distress and fear which impacted on trust of healthcare professionals and contributed to distress and unmet needs in cancer survivorship and care.

It also found social support, often provided by partners and other chosen family, including intimate partners and other LGBTQI people, buffered the negative impacts of minority stress, helping LGBTQI patients deal with cancer.

The study drew on qualitative findings from the Out with Cancer study(opens in a new window), including online surveys with 430 LGBTQI cancer patients and 132 partners and carers representing a range of tumour types, sexual and gender identities, age and intersex status and interviews with 104 patients and 31 carers.

Lead author Professor Jane Ussher, from the School of Medicine and Translational Health Research Institute, said the study highlighted the complexities of caring for LGBTQI people with cancer and the impact of both a legacy of mistrust and the power of peer-support.

“We know that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or intersex (LGBTQI) people with cancer and their carers report poorer psychological outcomes than the general non-LGBTQI cancer population,” said Professor Ussher.

“It’s not unexpected that LGBTQI peoples’ experiences of historical and present-day discrimination are contributing to stress they felt receiving care as a member of a minority group, but that this was able to be buffered by social support is a positive way forward.”

LGBTQI patients and carers were found not to be passive recipients of discrimination and exclusion in cancer care, demonstrating agency and resistance through collective action and advocacy, despite the chronic, cumulative impacts of minority stress.

Despite the positive impact of support found by the study, some participants lacked support due to not having a partner, rejection from family of origin and lack of support within LGBTQI communities, increasing vulnerability to poor psychological wellbeing.

“There is a need for cancer healthcare professionals and support services to be aware of and responsive to these potential vulnerabilities, including the intersectional differences in experiences of minority stress and social support. There is also a need for recognition and facilitation of social support among LGBTQI people with cancer and their carers,” said Professor Ussher.

The Out with Cancer study is funded by an Australian Research Council linkage grant and focuses on understanding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) experiences of cancer and cancer care.

To find out more, read and download, “Surviving Discrimination by Pulling Together”: LGBTQI Cancer Patient and Carer Experiences of Minority Stress and Social Support here (opens in a new window).


20 February 2023

Ali Sardyga, Senior Media Officer