Alex Blaze

UCLA Study of California: Gay, Bisexual Men Have More Cancer

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 09, 2011 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: bisexual, California, cancer treatment, cigarette smoking, lesbian, smoking

The UCLA's California Health Interview Study (CHIS) shows that gay and bisexual men are twice as likely as straight men to gay-smoking.jpghave been diagnosed with cancer:

The research, from California, found that gay men were almost twice as likely as straight men to have been diagnosed with this disease. On average, diagnoses happened a decade earlier for gay men.

Of course, normal caveats apply. The population of gay and bisexual people was self-identified (of course) in a telephone interview for the study. The 2009 CHIS produced an estimate was over two percentage points fewer than Indiana University's National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior from the same year, which was based on an online survey. And the CHIS is a study of Californians, not all Americans. That doesn't mean there isn't value in this finding, although it would be great to more information about the subject in later studies, especially in studies that don't just target the LGB population.

The more important question is "why?" and the Pink News article indicates that those working in this field say that's a good question. Studies have shown that LGB people smoke more than straight people, which can cause lung cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, lung cancer is the most common type of cancer there is, and increased smoking among LGB people could significantly affect overall cancer statistics.

Someone who works for a UK HIV/AIDS nonprofit suggested HPV, which is linked to anal cancer in men and cervical cancer in women. The most important thing to figure out, besides confirming these numbers, is what kind of cancer we're more likely to get. Twice as much cancer is a lot.

I don't think that the discrepancy could be caused by gay and bisexual men getting diagnosed at a higher rate - we're less likely to have access to health care and more likely to face discrimination when it comes to health care than straight people. If anything, we're probably being diagnosed less often, although there's no way to prove that.

While the findings demonstrate another front in LGBT health that needs to be addressed, the overall finding isn't that hard to believe: oppressed minorities tend to experience health problems that affect the general population at a higher rate.

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Jay Kallio | May 9, 2011 3:43 PM

We don't yet know that much about the etiology of cancer to accurately determine why one group might get it more often than others, unless the differential is found to be specific to HIV, HPV, or other infection.

Very recently it was observed that HPV infection appears to increase the chance of getting lung cancer, as well as the more common suspects, cervical and anal cancer, so HPV or other infection might be the common cause. We may later find HPV or other infection causes other cancers as well. It has been posited that cancer clusters, some of which occur with a pattern of spread that strongly suggests viral contagion, imply that social communication of infection is the cause.

I am wondering whether this California study might be demonstrating such a cancer cluster...? It would be great to see a national and international comparison of gay vs straight men's incidence of a variety of cancers.

Unfortunately infections such as HPV are easily communicated through skin to skin contact, so prevention would be nearly impossible, but there might eventually be a means to vaccinate against all strains. Right now Gardasil does appear to protect against several strains that cause cervical and anal cancer, so receiving the vaccine might be an excellent public health intervention if insurance companies could be mandated to cover it.

OK, so we have no idea how many gay men there are, or bisexuals, or even a supposed definition of both - as reported at this site, in particular in regards to the Gary Gates study. And so if we go by his numbers, say, or going by twice his numbers, as a more accurate count, then we automatically double our "Rate." That is, if you think there's only 2.5 million gay men, and you come up with say, 10000 cancer cases, but there are really 5 million gay adult men, with the same number of cancer cases, our "rate" falls in 1/2 immediately. Therefore such a study can never be accurate.

And more to the point -- what types of cancer? There are dozens. If gay men are getting any and all, that's one thing. If we're getting one or two types that's another. They lead to different conclusions as to why this might be so. Though in either case, if it really is true that we get cancer at twice the rate as straight guys, is there therefore something genetic in us that makes this so? I have, much to the consternation of most gay men, thought that we're a sort of "runt of the litter." If it is true that we get cancer at twice the rate, then this lends credence to that idea.

If on the other hand it is true that urban males get cancer at higher rates, and the gay men they found are from urban areas, but straights are from everywhere, that too would skew the results.

The analysis of destruction of such studies is endless. But something is never quite right with any of these studies which purport to show anything about gay men. No one can define us, supposedly, and no one has a count of us, and no one has any more information about us other than what they glean from a very limited database. Ergo, the study is mush.

I think that if you're looking to take the study as definitive proof that gay men get cancer twice as often as straight men, then you're right - it fails in that way.

If you look at it as a sign that gay and bi men get more cancer, and that that's something that needs to be studied more, then the study's useful.

The size of the population was lower than other studies, and it was self-identified. That means there was some degree of self-selection going on. In order for that to make the results complete "mush," the self-selected group would have to be more likely to report cancer than the others, which there's no reason to believe is true.

Last, on your concerns about urban vs. rural populations - the CHIS was most careful on that question, in making sure each county in California was adequately represented.

The study isn't supposed to be a statistic to throw around; it should be read as a call to more research, and, eventually, more prevention and treatment funding to be directed towards LGBT people.

The higher rate of smoking and drinking would definitely help account for it.