American Cancer Society reaches out to lesbian survivors and their partners

June 18, 2004

ATLANTA - The American Cancer Society has begun collaborating with the Mautner Project, the national lesbian health organization, to learn how to better meet the cancer education and support needs of the lesbian community.

"Although lesbians have higher risk factors for certain cancers, there are very few places where we can turn for help," said Mautner Project Executive Director Kathleen DeBold. "The Mautner Project is proud to assist the Society in its heartfelt mission of helping all people face the challenges of cancer - regardless of their sexual orientation."

Studies suggest that lesbians are at greater risk for developing breast cancer and some gynecological cancers. This elevated risk is partially because many lesbians are less likely to undergo regular gynecological exams, have fewer mammograms and are less likely to perform regular breast self-examinations compared to non-lesbian women. In addition, lesbians have higher rates of risk factors for these cancers including obesity, alcohol and tobacco use and the fact that they generally have not borne children.

With the assistance of The Mautner Project, the American Cancer Society conducted focus groups in Washington, D.C with lesbian cancer survivors, their partners and caregivers attending a nationwide conference to determine how to build a stronger relationship with the lesbian community. The results showed the Society has the potential to be a valuable resource for lesbian cancer survivors and their caregivers.

Many of the respondents' needs echo those of others whose lives have been impacted by cancer. For instance:
  • A need for reliable information about diagnosis and treatment;
  • A desire for guidance in navigating through the health care and insurance systems;
  • A need for emotional support and a sense of community.

    Yet the majority of respondents said they never thought of contacting the Society when they or a loved one was diagnosed with cancer.

    The Society is currently acting on key recommendations from the surveys to provide a more meaningful relationship for the lesbian community. Activities already in place include:

    The American Cancer Society's New England Division recently produced "Cancer Facts for Lesbians & Bisexual Women," as well as "Tobacco and the GLBT Community," materials which are also being used in California.

    Grassroots efforts to reach the lesbian community are underway at the American Cancer Society, such as including lesbians in the Society's advocacy efforts; having Society representatives speak at local meetings of lesbian organizations, and inviting lesbians to speak at Society events.

    "These activities and others in the planning stage demonstrate the Society's commitment to serving the needs of all people with cancer and their families, partners and friends," said Eve M. Nagler, the national Society's director of special populations.

    The Society has also posted stories on the relationship between sexual orientation and cancer on its Web site (, listed The Mautner Project as a resource in several of its nationwide publications, and with The Mautner Project's assistance, included a tip from a lesbian cancer survivor in the Society's book, Eating Well, Staying Well During and After Cancer. Additionally, the Society's work with the population is mentioned in a special section on "Cancer Disparities" in Cancer Facts & Figures 2004.

    "We particularly look forward to using the Cancer Survivors Network´┐Ż to strengthen a sense of community among lesbian cancer survivors and their caregivers and to provide them with valuable information through discussions and chats, personal stories and a resource library," said Greta E. Greer, manager of the Society's Cancer Survivors Network´┐Ż (CSN). The CSN is an online community of cancer survivors, families and friends who share their experiences with one another on the Internet.

    The Society has added two "talk shows" and several personal stories by lesbians and their partners in the past year to its Cancer Survivors Network Web site. These stories are available in both audio and written transcript online as well as through the toll-free telephone 1.877.333.HOPE. At the request of several CSN members, a discussion board for lesbians was also added to the site.

    Founded in 1990, the Mautner Project is the national lesbian health organization dedicated to helping lesbians with cancer, their families and caregivers. As the leading national health organization for lesbians it promotes health through research, advocacy, education and direct services.

    The American Cancer Society is dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by saving lives, diminishing suffering and preventing cancer through research, education, advocacy and service. Founded in 1913 and with national headquarters in Atlanta, the Society has 14 regional Divisions and local offices in 3,400 communities, involving millions of volunteers across the United States.

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