Higher Cancer Rate Among Gays? Or More Gay Cancer Survivors?
Before the nature of AIDS was understood, health officials briefly referred to the condition as "the gay cancer." Now, a study indicates that gay men are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to have survived an actual bout with cancer. But what is not clear is whether gays are at higher risk of cancer for some reason, or whether gays do better than straights at surviving a cancer diagnosis, a May 9 Reuters article reported.
A medical journal called Cancer has published a report on the findings, which are a result of analysis of three years worth of data gathered by the California Health Interview survey. The results show that gay men not only report a higher instance of surviving cancer, but they also tend to be diagnosed earlier--about ten years earlier than heterosexuals, on average, around age 41, CNN reported in a May 9 article
Anti-gay groups and publications may well seize upon the study’s findings in the same way that critically denounced "studies" by discredited anti-gay researcher Paul Cameron have been touted as evidence that a so-called "gay lifestyle" might be detrimental to health and lead to significantly shorter lifespans. But health authorities pointed out that the California survey’s findings do not provide enough information to draw any such conclusions.
For one thing, while the data suggest that there are more gay cancer survivors, this is not the same as a claim that gays are more likely to suffer from cancer. The results might just as easily be interpreted as meaning that gays survive cancer more often than heterosexuals--perhaps due to better overall health habits such as paying attention to any warning signs and symptoms. Another possibility is that gays might have higher rates of more survivable forms of cancer, suffering less frequently from more lethal types of the disease.
"Out of 51,000 men, about 3,700 said they had been diagnosed with cancer as an adult," the Reuters article said. "While just over 8 percent of gay men reported a history of cancer, that figure was only 5 percent in straight men. The disparity could not be attributed to differences in race, age, or income between gay and straight men."
One of the study’s authors speculated that HIV status might affect cancer rates, but added that this possible correlation could not be proven by the study.
"The study can’t say whether gays and lesbians are more likely to develop cancer in the first place, since it doesn’t include people who have died from the disease or may be too ill to answer questions, stressed study author Ulrike Boehmer, an associate professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health," reported HealthDay News on May 9.
"There’s a higher prevalence of HIV positive men in the gay population, and we know that being HIV positive is related to cancers, so this might drive the differences we found," CNN reported Boehmer as saying.