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Recognizing and Supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Cancer Survivors

June 2017 Vol 3 No 3
Allison Harvey, MPH, CHES
Senior Manager, Healthcare Professional Education, Institute for Patient-Centered Initiatives and Health Equity, George Washington University Cancer Center, Washington, DC
Mandi L. Pratt-Chapman, PhD
Department of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

This June will mark National Cancer Survivors Day, which raises awareness about the unique needs of cancer survivors. To celebrate and affirm people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ), June is also LGBTQ Pride Month. So if you are a patient with cancer and identify yourself as LGBTQ, or if you want to know more about the unique needs of LGBTQ cancer survivors, keep reading.

Experiences of LGBTQ Cancer Survivors

Although no cancer experience is the same, LGBTQ cancer survivors often face unique challenges related to receiving proper healthcare or managing their health. Reports from LGBTQ cancer survivors reveal the specific challenges they face, such as:

  • Needing to correct healthcare providers who make assumptions that everyone is “straight” and identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth
  • Not involving their partner, family, or friends in their cancer care and follow-up care because of fear of discrimination
  • Receiving information, resources, and support from their providers that only address the needs of married, heterosexual cancer survivors
  • Missing recommended follow-up cancer screenings and survivorship care visits because of financial or insurance problems, perceived judgment from providers, or other barriers to proper care

If you have experienced any of these things as an LGBTQ person, you may feel helpless and hopeless about your health and your care. These feelings can significantly affect your quality of life. Resources are available for you and your loved ones to make sure you have the support you need.

Moving Forward in Survivorship: Know Your Rights

As you move forward in managing your health and healthcare, it is important that you know your rights.

The Healthcare Bill of Rights ( provides information about your rights, resources you can use if you experience discrimination in a healthcare setting, and tools you can use to make your healthcare choices known. The Healthcare Bill of Rights specifies that you have the right to1:

  • Be treated with equality and respect
  • Enjoy affirmation of your true gender identity
  • Designate who will make decisions for you
  • Be visited by anyone you choose
  • Have the privacy of your medical records and care protected
  • Not experience discrimination

How to Choose Your Providers

Remember, you are your strongest advocate. Look for healthcare providers who:

  • Do not make assumptions about your sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Use inclusive language when speaking to you, such as asking about “relationship status”
  • Use your preferred name and pronouns
  • Mirror your language for discussing your body parts
  • Have forms that are inclusive, which can provide you the opportunity to self-identify as LGBTQ
  • Provide information relevant to you as an LGBTQ person
  • Are current on information and resources relevant to you as an LGBTQ cancer survivor


  1. The Healthcare Bill of Rights.

About the Authors

Mrs. Harvey is Senior Manager, Healthcare Professional Education at the Institute for Patient-Centered Initiatives and Health Equity, George Washington University Cancer Center, Washington, DC; Ms. Pratt-Chapman is Director of the Institute for Patient-Centered Initiatives and Health Equity and an Associate Center Director for the George Washington University Cancer Center.

LGBTQ Resources

The following cancer organizations offer information and support for LGBTQ individuals:

American Cancer Society



The National LGBT Cancer Network

The National LGBT Cancer Project

Susan G. Komen

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