LGBTQ Focus on Cancer

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. While the causes of cancer are similar for everyone, the LGBTQ community may have higher rates of certain types of cancer because of social habits or poor access to comprehensive health care.

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is the 3rd most common type of cancer in women. It is almost always caused by human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a common virus spread through sexual intercourse, including intercourse between women. Lesbian and bisexual women may be at greater risk for cervical cancer because they are more likely to:

  • Smoke
  • Use alcohol
  • Not give birth until after age 30 or have biological children at all
  • Eat a high fat diet and be overweight.

Lesbian and bisexual women may also have poorer screening rates. As a result, cancers may not be found until they are harder to treat. Lesbian, bisexual women, and transgender men with a cervix should be screened regularly for cancer. They should also consider being vaccinated against HPV. For more information, visit the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center at

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a common form of cancer in women. As with cervical cancer, lesbian and bisexual women may be at greater risk for breast cancer because of higher rates of tobacco and alcohol use and obesity and lower rates of childbirth. This risk increases with age. Common symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • A lump in a breast
  • A change in the size or shape of a breast
  • Leakage from a nipple.

Early detection is key because breast cancers in their early stages are more curable. However, symptoms of breast cancers do not always appear in the early stages. This is why screening is important. Lesbian and bisexual women should have mammograms every 1 to 2 years beginning in their 40s. Unfortunately, lesbian and bisexual women are less likely to be screened for breast cancer. For more information, visit the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center at

Anal Cancer

The rate of anal cancer in men who have sex with men is 80 times higher than in heterosexual men. Risk factors for anal cancer can include:

  • Receiving anal intercourse
  • Having multiple unprotected sexual partners
  • Being infected with human papilloma virus (HPV) or HIV
  • Smoking.

There are currently no nationally recognized screening guidelines for anal cancer. However, it is recommended that men who have sex with men get anal pap smears every 1-3 years. They should also consider getting the HPV vaccine. For more information, visit the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center at

For information only. Not to replace the advice of your health care provider. Copyright © 2012 Vanderbilt University Medical Center. All rights reserved.