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R.I. Cancer Summit to address disparities affecting LGBTQ community

Providence Journal - 6/11/2019

PROVIDENCE -- In setting the agenda for Thursday's 13th annual Rhode Island Cancer Summit, Joseph Dziobek, director of The Partnership to Reduce Cancer in Rhode Island, and other planners agreed that tobacco use, health disparities, and gynecologic cancers were among the critical issues that speakers would emphasize this year in their presentations.

"We're trying to have a summit that maybe is going to bring to the fore issues that other agencies are not highlighting," says Dziobek, whose wife, Linda, is an ovarian cancer survivor. "GYN cancers I don't think have gotten as much attention as, say, breast cancer."

Among the significant disparities in awareness, prevention and treatment, Dziobek says, are those affecting the LGBTQ community.

"In the LGBTQ community, there's been a lot of work and research showing that there is a health disparity there," Dziobek says. "People aren't always getting access to care in the way that others might."

Studies indeed confirm the disparity, keynote speaker Scout tells The Journal. A transgender father of three, the Providence resident is deputy director of the National LGBT Cancer Network and principal investigator of the LGBTQ tobacco-related cancer disparity network, which is supported by the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those studies, according to the National LGBT Cancer Network, show that LGBTQ smoking rates are 40 percent higher than for other groups, leading to greater risk of many cancers. Among the disparities, according to the network, "eighty percent of oncologists don't know enough to treat trans people."

Scout will speak to biases in the medical world that can make LGBTQ individuals reluctant to seek care and treatment, and which can affect health outcomes. And he will discuss another disparity, which can affect not only physical but mental health post-treatment.

"We find from the evidence that LGBTQ people who have had cancer and are now surviving are less likely to have an optimistic outlook on their life, less likely to report that their health status is as high as not-LGBTQ," Scout says. "So there's a constellation of things that happen that show that our survivors are not faring as well as non-LGBTQ survivors."

Also delivering a keynote address Thursday is Dr. Don S. Dizon, director of women's cancers at Lifespan Cancer Institute and head of medical oncology at Rhode Island Hospital. An associate professor at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Dizon will discuss risk factors and barriers to care among the LGBTQ community.

One barrier, he says, is the concern individuals bring to a doctor's office or hospital, where most patients are not LGBTQ. The concern keeps some from even seeking care, Dizon says.

"You don't want anyone feeling like every single time they step into a center they have to have a defense up and then they have to step out of that proverbial closet every single time and when that's the experience of a community, a couple of things happen," he says.

"One, they don't access preventive services. And then they also don't necessarily see themselves at risk. So the classic example in my field is HPV infections. [Clinicians] may see a woman who has sex with a woman and say 'Well, clearly she's not at risk for HPV.' Which is false. And a woman might say, 'I've never had sex with men, I'm not at risk, there's no way I have HPV.' But HPV is a ubiquitous thing. It crosses gender and sexuality."

Thursday's summit at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick runs from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Healthcare professionals who attend can earn Continuing Education Units for licensing purposes. To register and learn more visit www.prcri.org/

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(c)2019 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)

Visit The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.) at www.projo.com

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