The importance of inclusive health care: LGBTQ+ cancer awareness

LGBTQ Health
nurse consulting trans woman

Everyone deserves equal access to quality medical treatment, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, LGBTQ+ communities often face health disparities, including a higher risk for cancer. Inclusive health care is crucial for addressing these disparities, but there are still barriers that need to be addressed.

What is inclusive health care?

Inclusive health care is a holistic approach that focuses on providing medical services that are respectful of diverse backgrounds and identities. It prioritizes cultural competence and aims to ensure equitable and discrimination-free care.

"For LGBTQ+ individuals navigating cancer care, this means receiving screenings, treatments and supportive services that acknowledge and incorporate their unique life experiences and identities," says Jamie Mushlin, MS, a licensed certified genetic counselor with the Genetics and Risk Assessment Program at Main Line Health.

Inclusive health care means adapting to individual needs so everyone feels valued and heard. Consideration of each individual by asking questions regarding relationships, identity and gender rather than making assumptions will create a safe place for patients to share what they're comfortable with. This is especially important for LGBTQ+ patients who may face societal and emotional challenges. Inclusive health care is a setting which provides affirming and high-quality health care for LGBTQ people.

Benefits of inclusive health care

Inclusive health care is important for LGBTQ+ individuals to receive medical services that cater to their unique needs. This helps to reduce health disparities and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to achieve optimal health and receive equal care, both physically and mentally. It considers the medical, psychological and social factors that contribute to overall well-being.

"Patients receiving inclusive health care are more likely to participate in their treatment plans when they feel respected and understood. This can result in earlier detection, timely treatment and better management of cancer, increasing the chances of positive health outcomes," says Jamie.

An inclusive health care setting fosters a supportive and trusting environment, encouraging open communication between patients and their providers. It removes the barriers of fear and stigma that often deter LGBTQ+ individuals from seeking the medical attention they need, promoting instead a culture of inclusivity where every patient's health concerns are validated and addressed.

"By ensuring that health care practices are inclusive and affirming, we not only enhance the patient experience for LGBTQ+ individuals facing cancer but also contribute to a more compassionate and effective health care system," says Jamie. "The ripple effects of such care models extend beyond individual patient outcomes, fostering a health care environment where diversity is acknowledged, respected and celebrated."

Barriers to inclusive health care

Getting high quality, competent health care can be hard for LGBTQ+ people, especially when they have cancer. One big problem is that some doctors and nurses may not understand or respect LGBTQ+ issues. This can make LGBTQ+ patients feel uncomfortable talking about who they are or what they need, which can make it harder for them to get the best care.

Another challenge is that there aren't enough health care providers who know how to help LGBTQ+ people with their specific health needs, like their risk for certain cancers. This means LGBTQ+ people might not get the care that's best for them, which could cause important parts of their health to get overlooked.

"On top of that, many LGBTQ+ people worry about being judged or treated unfairly by doctors and nurses. They might have had bad experiences in the past that make them not trust medical professionals or want to talk about important parts of who they are," says Jamie.

It's also tough for LGBTQ+ people to find resources and support that are made for them during cancer treatment. If they don't see people like them in health care resources, they might feel even more alone and not know where to turn for help.

How Main Line Health is improving inclusive health care

To make health care better for LGBTQ+ individuals with cancer, Main Line Health is doing a few things. First, we are educating health care workers on the specific needs of LGBTQ+ people. This helps them provide more understanding and helpful care.

We also listen to LGBTQ+ patients to learn about their experiences and how Main Line Health can improve. It's important to have clear rules in place that say all people will be treated the same, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. It's also important to engage with LGBTQ+ groups to learn more about the challenges they face. Partnerships with these organizations can facilitate access to specialized training, support services for patients and guidelines for inclusive practice.

"Through these combined efforts — education, community engagement, policy reinforcement and collaboration with advocacy groups — Main Line Health strives to offer truly inclusive care that meets the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals facing cancer, ensuring they receive the compassionate, respectful and effective treatment they deserve," says Jamie.

Resources and support for LGBTQ+ individuals facing cancer

For LGBTQ+ individuals with cancer, it's important to know there are resources available to help. Organizations like the National LGBT Cancer Network offer educational materials, advocacy information and a list of health care providers who understand LGBTQ+ needs.

Additional resources include OutCare Health, which provides a nationwide directory of providers knowledgeable about LGBTQ+ health care needs, and CancerCare, offering free, professional support services specifically for the LGBTQ+ community affected by cancer.

Support groups also serve as a vital resource, offering a space for LGBTQ+ individuals with cancer to share their experiences, challenges and triumphs. These groups can be found through local LGBTQ+ community centers, hospitals or online platforms, providing flexibility and accessibility to those who may not have access to in-person support due to geographic or health constraints.

For younger members of the LGBTQ+ community facing cancer, organizations like the Trevor Project offer crucial crisis intervention and suicide prevention services. Their work underscores the importance of remembering that mental health is just as important as physical health when dealing with cancer.

"By leveraging these resources and finding inclusive health care providers, LGBTQ+ individuals with cancer can find not only the medical care they need but also the emotional and community support essential for navigating their cancer journey," says Jamie.

Next steps:

Learn more about Jamie Mushlin, MS
Learn more about the LGBTQ Inclusive Care program
Why LGBTQ+ health and inclusive care matter