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Pride Month & Preventive Health

progress pride flag on teal background with ICHC logo and "Preventive Health for LGBTQIA+" text

Preventive Health in the LGBTQIA+ Community

 

In this post:

 

Introduction

June is Pride Month, when we celebrate our LGBTQIA+ friends and neighbors! Pride Month is a time of joy and recognition, but it’s also a time when we reflect on the trials and turmoil of the LGBTQIA+ community and acknowledge areas that still need improvement to make the world a safer, happier, and healthier place for everyone.

So let’s talk about preventive healthcare for LGBTQIA+ community members.

 

What we know (and what we don’t)

The gathering of healthcare data about LGBTQIA+ folks is still pretty new and pretty sensitive, so there are a lot of gaps in what we do and don’t know about their healthcare, but what we do know is shaping up to some rather concerning patterns. LGBTQIA+ appear to have lower rates of cancer screenings, higher rates of cancer, higher rates of tobacco use, and higher rates of stress and mental health concerns compared to straight and cis-gendered community members. They also appear to have higher rates of obesity and overweight as well as higher rates of diabetes.

 

If you have it, check it

Cancer screenings can be a difficult topic for those community members who struggle with gender dysphoria and/or encounter exclusively gendered terms in healthcare for common health conditions or screenings. There’s also a lot of misinformation out there about who might be vulnerable to which types of cancer, so, in words shamelessly stolen from one of our wonderful community partners over at the Alaska Breast & Cervical Cancer Screening Assistance Program, a good rule of thumb is “if you have it, check it.”

Cervical Cancer Screening

If you were born with a cervix—e.g., you were assigned female at birth—and have not had it surgically removed (or even if you had it removed in response to a past cervical cancer diagnosis), it’s a good idea to schedule a cervical cancer screening every 3 to 5 years, depending on your age, or more frequently if your provider recommends it based on your risk factors. Cervical cancer screening is usually done via a pap test every three years between the ages of 21 and 30, and via a combined pap/HPV test every five years between the ages of 31 and 64. Note that sometimes, depending on your sexual activity and exposure risk, your provider might also recommend you get an anal pap or HPV test, which checks for anal cancer, not cervical cancer – so be sure not to mix these up, and to get both if you need them!

Early detection of cervical cancer is key to ensuring treatment, recovery, and survival of this type of cancer, so it’s important to diligently follow screening recommendations.

Breast/Chest Cancer Screening

Similarly, if you were assigned female at birth and have not had complete top surgery, you likely need to get a screening test for breast/chest cancer, usually a mammogram, done once every one to two years based on your risk factors. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends mammograms every two years from ages 40 – 75. If you are high risk, you may need them more frequently, or you may need an ultrasound instead of a mammogram.

Transgender women also should consider breast cancer screening if they have been on gender-affirming hormones for more than five years.

For more information about mammograms, read our other article here. Just like with cervical cancer, early screening is key to ensuring effective treatment, recovery, and survival.

 

Addressing tobacco use amongst LGBTQIA+

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have identified LGBTQIA+ as having particularly high rates of smoking and tobacco use, in part due to aggressive marketing by tobacco companies and in part due to stress related to prejudice and stigma and to exposure to others who smoke. This Pride Month, reflect on the impact and prevalence of smoking in your life and the lives of your LGBTQIA+ neighbors. Do you have friends or family who smoke? Are you worried about youth in your life who are exposed to smoke and tobacco use such as vaping?

Use of tobacco products has spiked amongst youth in recent years due to the advent of vaping and the creation of flavored vapes that appeal to kids and teenagers, and LBGTQIA+ youth are at an even higher risk compared to their straight or cisgendered friends. You can help by quitting tobacco products if you use them and modeling good health decisions, and by talking to the kids in your life about the dangers of tobacco and vaping.

Quitting tobacco improves your physical health and decreases your risk of many cancers and chronic diseases such as cardiovascular issues and diabetes. Even though smoking is often viewed as a short-term stress reliever, quitting tobacco also lowers levels of anxiety, depression and stress and improves your mood and quality of life in the long term.

 

Resources

Your primary care provider (that’s us at ICHC!) is your first stop for preventive health services like cancer screening and tobacco cessation. We also do chronic disease care and provide counseling services, but we may refer you out for specialty care or certain types of screenings, like mammograms. If you are uninsured, underinsured, or low income, like many of our LGBTQIA+ neighbors, we provide a sliding fee for all eligible households based on household size and income, regardless of insurance status. We also provide certified application counselors who can help you apply for public insurance and ensure you can get the care you need.

We can also help you enroll in the Alaska Breast & Cervical Cancer Screening Assistance Program (ABC), previously known as Ladies First, which can help you get a mammogram and cervical cancer screening for low or no cost to you, depending on your household size and income. Transgender men and women can also be also eligible for benefits if they have been taking hormones and have not had top surgery.

If you need help quitting tobacco, talk to us about cessation medications and the Fresh Start program, a free program through the State of Alaska that provides resources to help you quit.

To schedule an appointment with your doctor at Interior Community Health Center, call 907-455-4567, option 1.

Author
ICHC snowflake logo The Quality Team @ ICHC The Quality department at ICHC brings you helpful information about your healthcare in Fairbanks and Healy, AK. We are proudly committed to ensuring high-quality "healthcare with a heart!"

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