Most oncologists don’t know enough about treating patients with differences in sexual orientation or identity, according to a study that also – fortunately – found that most are also interested in learning more.
Led by researchers from NYU School of Medicine and Moffitt Cancer Center, the study reported that the majority of oncologists were comfortable treating individuals who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, but only half expressed confidence in their knowledge of these patients’ health needs. Fewer of those surveyed (nearly 83%) said they were comfortable treating transgender individuals, and only 37% felt they knew enough to do so.
Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) community are at greater risk for certain types of cancer such as, cervical or oral, say the study authors. Furthermore, they cite studies showing that LGBTQ individuals are less likely to get screened for cancer but more like to engage in behaviors that increase cancer risk, such as drinking or smoking.
“Cancer care within the LGBTQ community is a largely ignored public health issue,” says Gwendolyn Quinn, PhD, a professor in the Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Population Health at NYU Langone Health. “To address this problem, we have to start by understanding the gaps in knowledge among physicians.”
Published online Jan. 16 in the Journal of Clinical on Oncology – the first-of-its-kind study surveyed 450 oncologists from the 45 NCI designated cancer centers in the US to assess their knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and willingness to be educated about LGBTQ cancer patients.
Besides Quinn, another NYU Langone researcher involved in the study is Megan E. Sutter, PhD. Other study authors include Matthew B. Schabath, Catherine A. Blackburn, Peter A. Kanetsky, Susan T. Vadaparampil, Vani N. Simmons, Julian A. Sanchez, and Steven K. Sutton, from Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa.
Interestingly, oncologists’ confidence in their ability to treat LGBTQ patients–when asked about it at the start of the survey and again at the end–dropped 20%, with the survey- serving as a process of identifying knowledge gaps.
Political affiliation and having LGBTQ friends or family were associated with both higher knowledge and interest in education.
As a result of their findings, researchers recommend cancer centers not only create an environment safe for patients to disclose their sexual orientation and gender identity, but also establish protocols for treating LGBTQ cancer patients.
“Oncologists and other cancer care providers need to consider sexual orientation and gender identity when assessing the needs of a patient,” says Quinn. “At the institutional level, education and further training should be offered to physicians so they can be both culturally sensitive and clinically informed about LGBTQ cancer issues.”