Study Finds Most Cancer Doctors Don’t Have Enough Knowledge About LGBTQ Patient Care

A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that, while a majority of oncologists say they’re comfortable treating LGBTQ patients with cancer, many lack knowledge about their specific health needs.

Oncologists were asked a series of questions designed to assess their knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and willingness to be educated about LGBTQ cancer patients. Less than half (38.9 percent) of the 149 oncologists surveyed – most of whom were heterosexual men – said they felt confident enough about LGBTQ patients’ health needs postsurvey.

“There’s both overt and covert discrimination that happens that we’ve heard again and again, especially for transgender patients but across the LGBTQ spectrum,” study author Megan Sutter, PhD told CBS News. “With this research, we’re really interested in looking at how discrimination affects not only patient health but also how we can intervene at the provider level to have an impact on quality of care.”

These 149 oncologists came from the 45 National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated cancer centers in the country – who Gwendolyn Quinn, PhD, another author of the study, called the “best of the best.”

“If things are not happening at NCI centers, they’re probably not happening at smaller community centers,” Quinn said.

According to Quinn, LGBTQ care wasn’t incorporated into medical school curriculums until around 2010, meaning those who went to school before then probably didn’t get a lot of training. This may be why many of the doctors surveyed didn’t know about many risk factors that can influence LGBTQ cancer patients – like the fact that the LGBTQ community is more likely to spend time in the sun, use tobacco, and struggle with substance abuse – when asked.

Despite the lack of knowledge among oncologists, the majority of doctors – 70.4 percent – said they were interested in receiving education regarding LGBTQ patients.

As a result of these findings, the researchers say all healthcare professionals, not just oncologists, should receive training regarding LGBTQ patient care.

“It’s one thing to train practicing oncologists, and they’re obviously a great place to start, but members of the LGBTQ community are not going to get great care if the whole team and the institution are also not trained,” Quinn said. “There needs to be policies at the institution level from nurses to intake to schedulers, all workers need to have this cultural competency in order for the patient to have a good experience.”