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Cancer and its increased impact on our society’s LGBTQ+ community

By Yvonne Smyth, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Hays

June is Pride month! Hays is a proud supporter of Pride and has been for many years. But, although this is a period to celebrate in LGBTQ+ inclusion and the relationships of friends, family and colleagues, it’s also important to look at the challenges the community battles day to day.

We wanted to take this opportunity to have a closer look at specific struggles that people in the LGBTQ+ community face – namely those associated with cancer.

What makes the LGBTQ+ demographic more vulnerable?

According to research, the LGBTQ+ community often experiences poorer quality cancer treatment and support compared with their heterosexual counterparts. Often this is due to a lack of awareness among those within the medical profession, support groups – even friends and family – and a lack of research and understanding of LGBTQ+ health needs. Pertinent medical insights for members of this community can often be embedded – and lost – among the wealth of information about other groups.

Insight from cancernetwork.org suggests that the LGBTQ+ community also carries a greater burden when it comes to the risk of cancer. The reason? It’s not a question of physical or biological differences to those who identify as heterosexual, but it is the ‘cluster of risk factors’ that can be attributed to societal and economic factors and behaviours, which can be associated with the stress of living as a minority.

Fear of being open with healthcare professionals

For instance, a fear of gender-shaming or homophobia may reduce an LGBTQ+ patient’s willingness to be open during doctor’s appointments; patients may not feel safe to come out to their GP or oncologist [I][ii]. This can be particularly true for older generations.

When faced with a potentially life-threatening diagnosis, individuals might feel highly vulnerable. If they have any concern that revealing their gender and/or sexuality might alienate their caregiver – and fear that the level of care they receive might be jeopardised – could this mean they’re less likely to speak up [iii],  [iv]. In one study of 1,110 LGBTQ+ people in Ireland (Supporting LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Lives (Mayock, Bryan, Carr & Kitching, 2009)), healthcare providers were not aware of respondents’ gender and sexual identities in over 50% of cases.

Gaps in understanding across the medical profession

Equally, healthcare professionals may not consider asking about sexual activities, which may perpetuate a lack of information-sharing and potentially increase risks [v]. The National LGBT Cancer Network reports that LGBTQ+ women who are not ‘out’ to their healthcare provider tend to report lower levels of attendance for smear tests, colonoscopies and mammography scans than heterosexual women. Equally, some cancers are more prevalent in gay men than in heterosexual men, so if an LGBTQ+ man isn’t ‘out’ to his healthcare provider, he is less likely to be screened for them [vi].

Inadequate options in healthcare settings

One question to consider is whether or not healthcare documentation, adequately reflects members of the LGBTQ+ community. Within this community, ‘family’ can quite often be people who are not related to you by blood or a marriage certificate. Given that same-sex marriage has only been legal in Ireland since 2015, such restrictive messaging on medical documents may result in LGBTQ+ people having to attend appointments alone, rather than with the support of their loved ones [vii].

Missed appointments and missed warning signs

This wide-ranging reticence can lead to important appointments – such as the above-mentioned smear tests, mammograms, etc – being missed [viii], and therefore early warning signs going unnoticed, further compounding that ‘cluster of risk factors’ among the LGBTQ+ community.

There are positive movements towards embracing openness from both patients and healthcare providers, with the Irish Cancer Society advocating healthcare providers to instil five simple yet significant steps for change:

  1. Stay informed on LGBTQ+ issues and stressors
  2. Don’t assume all patients are heterosexual
  3. Respond positively when patients say they identify as LGBTQ+
  4. Challenge anti-gay bias and take a gay-affirmative approach
  5. Demonstrate that your practice is inclusive of LGBTQ+ people.

How can you help?

This Pride, we suggest engaging with LGBTQ+ issues that will expand your understanding of some of the unique issues that this community faces, and how you can better support through your communications and considerations. Stonewall recommends workplace advocacy in supporting issues such as access to healthcare for the trans community – both within your direct staff but also for customers, clients and the wider community in which a business operates.

At Hays Ireland, we’re raising money for the Irish Cancer Society, an organisation that supports those suffering with cancer and helps to raise awareness of important issues surrounding the disease. Hays also has an internal programme called Hays Helps, a scheme that encourages employees to take one day per year to dedicate to voluntary or charity work. One area of commitment is to the LGBTQ+ community, so we’re encouraging employees to consider using their Hays Helps day to assist a charity in this area.


[ii] Supporting LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Lives (Mayock, Bryan, Carr & Kitching, 2009)

[iv] Mayock, P., Bryan, A., Carr, N., & Kitching, K. (2009). Supporting LGBT lives: A study of the mental health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Dublin: GLEN and BeLong to Youth.

About this author

Yvonne is Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Hays, working with our clients to ensure their recruitment strategies are aligned with the latest equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) policies and initiatives. She is responsible for creating and implementing diverse recruitment strategies that effectively support the representation of more diverse staff profiles within their business.

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