Why gay women are suffering from breast cancer ‘care’

Human rights campaigners are calling for hospitals to use gender-neutral terms and have better training when it comes to treating LGBTI patients

Why gay women are suffering from breast cancer ‘care’
10 November 2013

Going through breast cancer is one of the hardest things a woman may ever have to do.

But if they are gay or bisexual, the suffering they have may not only come from the cancer, but the ‘care’ they are receiving.

In the most recent report on UK gay and bi women’s relationship with breast cancer treatment, 70% have said they received homophobic treatment.

One in three women will contract a form of cancer at one point in their lifetimes, and many studies state gay and bisexual women are statistically more likely to get breast cancer. While men can also get breast cancer, it is rare,  so the majority of studies only look at women.

GSN sat down with sex and relationship expert Emma Ziff and Pink Lobster Dating founder Juliette Prais to  discuss their campaign for breast cancer hospital services for gay and bisexual women.

Prais said: ‘The mainstream is so focused on just looking at straight women when it comes to breast cancer.

‘People don’t realize lesbians experience breast cancer in a very different way because they get stigmatized and are often presumed to be straight.’

Ziff, who often works with people after breast cancer has come into their lives, said a lot of butch lesbians are treated like men when they get breast cancer.

Madeleine, a British breast cancer patient, has argued she is not receiving proper treatment from the National Health Service as a gay woman.

She said:  ‘I don’t believe I have equal access to appropriate healthcare services as my heterosexual counterparts – partly due to the lack of understanding of specific lesbian health needs and, at times of illness, not always feeling emotionally confident or sufficiently resilient to frequently have to cope with outing myself each visit, facing a barrage of heterosexist and inappropriate questioning from GPs and other health workers.

‘Most of which results in me not bothering to seek medical intervention or preventive healthcare advice until it’s virtually not a choice.

‘I will self help and self treat as far as possible. The healthcare sector is alienating, unsafe and does not meet my needs.’

In the 2011 Stonewall report, they found lesbian and bisexual women were ‘invisible’ historically because they had been assumed to be straight. Most of the time, they believed gay and bi women are less likely to come out because they feared a hostile reaction or inferior treatment.

With the Equality Act 2010 in place, and recent changes to gay rights, the UK charity believes hospitals must ensure cancer services are responsive, respectful and appropriately delivered to gay and bisexual women.

Prais said, from working with Breast Cancer Care, she wants hospitals to be trained to use gender-neutral language when speaking to patients.

So instead of a gay woman having to out herself or to feel deeply uncomfortable when asked if their ‘boyfriend’ is coming to visit, they are instead asked about possible partners.

‘Something needs to be done across the board for health issues in the LGBT community, not just breast cancer,’ Prais added, saying she was inspired to campaign on this issue from breast cancer survivor Amanda Westlake.

‘People can die from breast cancer. I understand if a woman breaks her foot then it might not be relevant and she might see no point in coming out to a doctor.

‘But if a patient is dying, or potentially dying, she will want her partner to be there. It’s horrible to suffer even more from homophobic treatment.’

She continued: ‘With equal marriage, we hope things will change. And with equal marriage, there is a reason for it to now change.

‘We’re demanding equality, but does equality exist? David Cameron, and the rest of the Government, are saying we’ve got equality now we’ve got equal marriage.

‘No. We have to deal with the core issues that are still there.

‘They just think we’re all just women. But they don’t realise lesbians have this added issue while they’re in hospital.’

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