Why Are Gay Men More Likely to Get Skin Cancer?

Why Are Gay Men More Likely to Get Skin Cancer?

Gay men are more likely to suffer skin cancer than straight men and it may be because they use sunbeds more, scientists say. 

Rates of skin cancer were 8.1 – 8.4 per cent among gay and bisexual men compared to 6.7 for straight men in a group of more than 45,000 Americans.

However, gay and bisexual women were either at the same risk of skin cancer or lower compared with straight women, according to four year’s worth of questionnaires collected by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

UV ray exposure, and other risk factors, were not considered in this study. But the researchers note that smaller studies reported higher usage of indoor tanning beds among sexual minority men, which can cause skin cancer.

The study, published today in the journal JAMA Dermatology, is the largest to analyse how skin cancer rates vary depending on sexual orientation.

‘It’s absolutely critical that we ask about sexual orientation and gender identity in national health surveys; if we never ask the question, we’d never know that these differences exist,’ said corresponding author Dr Arash Mostaghimi.

‘When we look at disparities, it may be uncomfortable, but we need to continue to ask these questions to see if we’re getting better or worse at addressing them.

‘Historically, this kind of health variation was hidden, but we now recognize that it’s clinically meaningful.’

Dr Mostaghimi and colleagues leveraged data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) uses the BRFSS to collect information about American’s health-related risk behaviours.

About 450,000 adults in 50 states are interviewed by telephone by the BRFSS each year.

One of the questions they are asked – as well as about their sexual oreintation – is, ‘Has a doctor, nurse, or other health professional ever told you had skin cancer?’

Dr Mostaghimi and colleagues compared skin cancer rates among heterosexual men and women to rates in gay or bisexual men and women.

Rates of skin cancer were 8.1 per cent among gay men and 8.4 per cent among bisexual men, statistically higher than the rate of 6.7 per cent among heterosexual men.

Skin cancer rates were 5.9 per cent among lesbian women and 6.6 per cent among heterosexual women, which was not a statistically significant difference.

However, the rate of 4.7 per cent among bisexual women was statistically significantly lower than heterosexual women.

The BRFSS survey did not collect information about risk factors for skin cancer, such as UV exposure, Fitzpatrick skin type (a measure of skin color and susceptibility to sun burn), HIV status and more.

However, a previous study by the University of California of nearly 200,000 adults in the US found that gay and bisexual men were up to six times more likely to take part in indoor tanning and twice as likely to have suffered skin cancer.

Dr Sarah Arron, associate professor of dermatology at the University of California said that ‘gay and bisexual men constitute a high-risk population for skin cancer’.

‘One likely cause of more skin cancer among gay and bisexual men is greater exposure to ultraviolet radiation caused by indoor tanning,’ she added.

The authors of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital research note that the data is based on self-reported skin cancer diagnoses, which have not been confirmed by a physician.

The findings may not apply to the whole of the US, either.

Dr Mostaghimi said: ‘As a next step, we want to connect with sexual minority communities to help identify the cause of these differences in skin cancer rates.

‘This is work that will need to be done thoughtfully but may help not just sexual minorities but everyone.’

Cancer Research UK’s health information manager Rachel Orritt told MailOnline: ‘Although this study does suggest that homosexual men might be at a higher risk of skin cancer, only a small difference was found between homosexual and heterosexual men.

‘No matter what your sexual orientation, you can reduce the risk of skin cancer by enjoying the sun safely and avoiding sunbeds.’

In the UK, around 147,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year. Around 13,500 new cases of the other most common type, melanoma, are diagnosed each year, according to Cancer Research.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. It is estimated that approximately 9,500 people in the US are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, the American Academy of Dermatology say.

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