Our troupe of dancing daffodils proudly joined 100 community groups and organisations in the WA Pride Parade through Northbridge on Saturday night in support of the LGBTIQ+ community who face a higher risk of a number of cancers and encounter a range of barriers to support.
It was our first time joining the Pride Parade, and the team are already planning for a bigger and better team effort for next year.
"As the leading cancer organisation in the State, we have an important role to play in bringing the LGBTIQ+ and health communities together to address the disparities in cancer rates and outcomes," our Cancer Prevention and Research Director Melissa Ledger explains.
LGBTIQ+ people are at a higher risk of certain cancers due to:
· Higher rates of smoking. Smoking causes 16 different types of cancer, and smoking rates in the LGBTIQ+ community are about double the rate of the general population (learn more on our Make Smoking History blog)
· Higher risk of HIV/AIDS-related cancer such as Kaposi's sarcoma, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, cervical cancer
· Lesbian and bisexual women are at higher risk of certain cancers (e.g. ovarian cancer) as they are less likely to benefit from the protective impacts of parity, breastfeeding or taking contraceptive pills
· Lower cancer screening rates because of discomfort in the screening processes, particularly for transgender people, and potential misconceptions and underestimation of risk - for example lesbian women may think they are at a lower risk of cervical cancer because they do not engage in heterosexual sex, but this is not the case
"When we look at smoking in particular, we know from a number of focus groups involving members of the LGBTIQ+ community conducted by our colleagues from Quit Victoria at Cancer Council Victoria that there are many complexities contributing to the high rates of smoking and difficulties with quitting. We know we need to ensure our programs and resources are inclusive and accessible, and this is something we will work to improve," Ms Ledger explained.
"In the areas of support, studies abroad have revealed LGBTIQ+ people report lower satisfaction with cancer treatment, support and care. LGBTIQ+ people may feel of sense of anxiety, invisibility, isolation, and frustration throughout the cancer care journey, often resulting from a lack of training or understanding from health professionals and an assumption of heterosexuality, or patients not feeling comfortable with the process, which is a big concern."
Dr Jude Comfort, a proud member of the LGBTIQ+ community is an academic and former Manager of Education Services at Cancer Council WA.
"Around ten per cent of the population does not identify as exclusively heterosexual, so we're not talking about a small minority. Unfortunately the LGBTIQ+ community are overrepresented in some risk factors leading to higher rates of some diseases. This includes mental health issues and drug use," Dr Comfort said.
"I'd love to see more professional education within the health system on how to ensure inclusive practice extends to the LGBTIQ+ community. This will hopefully see LGBTIQ+ community feeling confident about accessing appropriate services, services that do not assume everyone is heterosexual, and services that understand the complexity of the diverse needs of the LGBTIQ+ community.
"Many LGBTIQ+ people have had some difficulties coming out. Particularly for older folk, who have a legacy of discrimination from growing up in a time when being LGBTIQ+ was generally vilified by the wider community. Homosexual acts between men were illegal in this state until 1990. So you can understand why some members of the community still don't feel as though it's safe to come out. Even for younger LGBTIQ+ people it is not always easy to come out.
"Gay bars and clubs have historically been one of the few safe places for the LGBTIQ+ community to gather. Having a cigarette in your hand was a way to get into that crowd, and risky alcohol and other drug use was pretty well accepted. But the good news is that we are starting to see smoking rates reduce and become more in line with the broader community.
"I'd love to see that all of public health lift the bar and work towards inclusive practice, and the first step in making that happen is to engage with the LGBTIQ+ community to understand their needs and work together to come up with proactive strategies.
"If you'd told me all those years ago that an organisation like Cancer Council would be taking part in Pride, I wouldn't have believed you - it's fantastic to see. Cancer doesn't discriminate, and it's great to see the Cancer Council actively engaging with the LGBTIQ+ community to address these disparities."