Bisexuals and cancer

Because of their status as a sexual minority, it is often standard practice to collapse lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals into a single group. However bisexual men and women often emerge in studies of health disparity as distinct groups that merit specific attention. In one such study bisexuals reported more barriers to health care, current sadness, past-year suicidal ideation, and cardiovascular disease risk than their heterosexual counterparts (Kerith, 2010). A study by Diamant et. al. reported that bisexual women were less likely than heterosexual women to have health insurance, were more likely to have been uninsured during the previous year, and more likely to have difficulty obtaining needed medical care (Diamant, 2000). In a study that investigated the association of health-related quality of life with sexual orientation among lesbians and bisexual women, bisexual women showed a higher likelihood of frequent mental distress and poor general health than did lesbians, and these conditions were higher for bisexual women living in urban areas as compared with non-urban areas (Fredriksen-Goldsen, 2010).

Other studies have shown that bisexual men and women are at elevated risk for poor health-related quality of life, including a higher incidence of some cancers. In a large U.S. study of women ages 50-79, bisexual women reported higher rates of any type of cancer than their heterosexual or lesbian counterparts. Breast cancer hits this demographic the hardest, where risk factors such as never having given birth to a child are at their highest (Miller, 2007). Case et. al. found that bisexual women were twice as likely to have never given birth compared to heterosexual women, putting them at greater risk for ovarian and endometrial cancers. However, among women who had given birth, bisexual women were twice as likely as heterosexual women to have done so during their teenage years, which also has health implications (Case, 2004). Bisexual women are also the most likely of the LGBT demographic to never have had a mammogram or pap test, two common types of cancer screening that, when used, are most effective lowering the incidence of cancer in the general population (Miller, 2007).

These studies remind us that health disparities exist both within sexual minority populations as well as between these populations and their heterosexual counterparts. And while this group shares a disproportionate cancer burden compared to the rest to the general population, studies should go further in testing and determining the uniqueness of this burden for individual members of the LGBT community.

For more information, browse any of the articles below.

  • Miller, M., AndrĂ©, A., Ebin, J., and Bessonova, L. (2007). Bisexual health: An introduction and model practices for HIV/STI prevention programming. New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, the Fenway Institute at Fenway Community Health, and BiNet USA.
  • Case P, Austin B, Hunter DJ, Manson JE, Malspeis S, Willett WC, Spiegelman D. Sexual orientation, health risk factors, and physical functioning in the Nurses’ Health Study II. Journal of Women’s Health. 13, 2004. P. 1033-1047.
  • Fredriksen-Goldsen, K.I., Kim, H., Barkan, S.E., Balsam, K.F., Mincer, S.L. Disparities in Health-Related Quality of Life: A Comparison of Lesbians and Bisexual Women. American Journal of Public Health, 100, 10, 2010. p. 2255-2261.
  • Kerith J. Conron, K.J., Mimiaga, M.J., Landers, S.J. A Population-Based Study of Sexual Orientation Identity and Gender Differences in Adult Health. American Journal of Public Health, 100, 10, 2010. P. 1953-1960.
  • Gay And Bisexual African-American Men Have the Lowest Use of Prostate Testing. 31 Dec 2008.
  • Krieger, N. Defining and investigating social disparities in cancer: critical issues. Cancer Causes Control, 16, 2005. p 5-14.
  • Diamant A.L., Wold, C., Spritzer, K., Gelberg, L. Health behaviors, health status, and access to and use of health care: a population-based study of lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual women. Archives Family Medicine, 9,10, 2000. p. 1043-1051.