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Smoking, LGBT Women and Cancer Risk

Thu 20 Oct 2011 In: Health and HIV View at Wayback View at NDHA

File photo In a recent issue of Women's Health Update, I was horrified to see that lung cancer was a leading killer of New Zealand women. So, what about lung cancer and smoking in the lives of lesbians, bisexual women and transwomen in this country? When it comes to women and cancer, the National Cancer Registry lists breast cancer as the most frequently registered form of women's cancer, but was the second leading cause of cancer-related death amongst women, at fifteen percent of all recorded deaths. At nineteen percent of all recorded deaths, lung cancer was the dominant cause. Registration rates for breast cancer and strong and it is dropping as a cause of death amongst women, compared to lung cancer, due to effective breast cancer screening programmes and public awareness. Registration and rates of death from cervical cancer have also dropped, again, attributable to an effective screening programme. Uterine and ovarian cancer continue to be relatively minor in terms of registration but not death for women who experience either- ovarian cancer is particularly difficult to detect in its early phases. Sadly, Maori women are more likely to die from breast cancer. All of which leads to the following question. It is beyond question that smoking is a leading cause of illness and death from lung cancer, heart disease and additional respiratory and cardiovascular problems. While National Cancer Registry data is broken down on the basis of ethnicity and class background, what about sexual identity and gender identity? Good question. I contacted Christy Parker, Womens Health Action's policy analyst about whether the data about gender and lung cancer was broken down on the basis of sexuality or gender identity, or whether there was indeed any local research that specifically dealt with the LGBT dimensions of nicotine addiction. She had this to say: [...] unfortunately as far as I understand the Ministry of Health (MoH) is still not collecting cancer data desegregated by sexuality/gender identity although we strongly agree that they should given the extent to which sexuality and gender identity are determinants of health seeking/harming behaviors and thus the incidence of cancers amongst other health outcomes. We have recently again urged the Ministry of Health to collect this data in relation to cervical cancer given our concern that lesbian women/bisexual women/women who have sex with women/transgender men may be less likely to attend for cervical smears and are not being targeted by cervical screening promotion programmes. Will let you know if we get anywhere there as it would set a precedent. I think national data collection related to sexuality and gender identity should be a key goal of any organizing around LGBTQTF health in Aotearoa and we would be happy to collaborate on this issue. Good idea. However, there needs to be stronger internal community resolve over this issue.We need to confront the weird disconnect signal that prevails wherein we confront HIV/AIDS and promote safer sex, but do no such thing with respiratory and cardiovascular health. And despite the rise in lung cancer, heart attacks are still the leading killer of women in Aotearoa/New Zealand. We are also aware that lesbians, bisexual women and transwomen don't visit their general practitioners as often as they should. Part of the problem also results from the acceptability of smoking within LGBT communities as a stress relief measure, primarily due to the absence of targeted anti-smoking health promotion material. This has to change. Sexual health may be a leading health concern for members of our communities, but it is not the other health issue that that we face. Coming out doesn't magically insulate one from developing unhealthy addictions and consequent health problems in later life. It is time that we got out there and demanded LGBT-centred anti-smoking programmes.   Craig Young - 20th October 2011    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Thursday, 20th October 2011 - 11:05am

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