Leading cancer doctors pledge to improve care for LGBTQ+ patients

Friday 25 June 2021

A coalition of clinicians and charities has made an open commitment to improve education and awareness of the care needs of LGBTQ+ patients with cancer. 

A statement released today by the Joint Collegiate Council for Oncology – a collaborative advisory group on cancer issues headed by The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) – and the Association of Cancer Physicians (ACP) outlines the need for better understanding of the requirements of patients from Sexual and Gender Minority groups and commits to ten actions to improve the cancer care community’s understanding, oversight and inclusion of these groups. 

The actions range across medical education, patient monitoring, research and inclusion, to be promoted and pursued by medical Royal Colleges, their members and the wider clinical community.

Commitments include integrating the care needs of LGBTQ+ patients into workforce training and assessment and producing ongoing educational materials, supporting the monitoring and audit of LGBTQ+ cancer patient care and encouraging inclusion of these patients in clinical trial development and recruitment.   

The statement, timed to mark Pride Month, has been endorsed by a host of expert professional bodies, including the UK Oncology Nursing Society, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, who agree to help enact the commitments. 

LGBTQ+ support groups backing the statement include Switchboard, Stonewall, Live Through This and the LGBT Foundation. Cancer Research UK and the Teenage Cancer Trust are also supporting the statement.     

The RCR, RCP and ACP began work on the commitments following a 2019 study of non-surgical cancer doctors about their knowledge of, and attitudes to, LGBTQ+ patients.

The study found that while most clinicians felt comfortable treating LGBTQ+ patients, there were low rates of routine enquiry about sexual orientation (5%), gender identity (3%) and preferred pronoun use (2%).

Respondents openly asked for more education and training around LGBTQ+ healthcare, with 68% saying LGBTQ+ healthcare needs should be a mandatory part of postgraduate medical training. 

Dr Alison Berner is a medical oncologist with a special interest in gender identity. She is an ACP and RCP member and has been the lead author on the position statement.

Commenting on the community’s aims to improve clinical awareness and drive down health inequalities for LGBTQ+ patients, Dr Berner said:

“LGBTQ+ communities continue to experience inequalities in their cancer journey with regard to screening and diagnosis, clinical care, communication and overall experience. Much of this stems from a lack of education and cultural humility by provider organisations, which results in the assumption that equal care means equitable care. 

“I hope these commitments will be the start of a sea-change that prioritises individual patient needs in cancer care, to provide true personalised medicine, and improve outcomes not only for LGBTQ+ patients, but all minority groups." 

Dr Hannah Tharmalingam, RCR Vice President for Clinical Oncology, added: 

“We are exceptionally proud to be collaborators on this statement of intent to improve the care of LGBTQ+ patients with cancer, which exemplifies the considerable strides made in this space in recent times.

“The RCR recognises the critical importance of following through on this pledge and is committed to leading on its actions.

“We look forward to working with fellow organisations and the wider cancer care community to reach our goal of equitable care for all of our patients.” 

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