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University of Manchester highlights gay, bisexual and queer cancer patients experiences of care in new project

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The University of Manchester has created an online hub of videos which show the unique experiences lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer people with cancer have.

Nursing lecturer Dr Maurice Naginton filmed the videos - which were funded by Macmillian Cancer Support - in order to give NHS staff a better understanding into the thoughts and feelings of LGB cancer patients.

The videos, which can be viewed on a specially created blog, include current and former patients discussing their personal experiences and the things they faced during treatment, such as, assumptions, normativity,  and prejudice.

Dr Nagington says: “LGB people with cancer often experience services which are heteronormative. For instance this can include advice on hair loss or makeup which is targeted at making women look particularly feminine when this may not be the way they usually present, whilst not offering any such services to men.

"Some of the people we spoke to told us how advice about the effects of cancer and treatment on sex was designed for heterosexual people and the professionals they spoke with weren’t able to address their concerns or were reluctant to go into much detail.”

In one video, Jim, who has undergone prostate cancer treatment, explains how he felt he wasn’t given the correct information in relation to his sex life after surgery. He says in the literature he was given by the hospital it stated he could have sex a week after his biopsy, however, he was “convinced he wasn’t given the correct information” and that the information was only in relation to vaginal sex and not anal sex.

Overall there were many accounts from people feeling they weren’t properly informed about the effects cancer would have on them and their sex lives. As healthcare staff often assumed the patients they were talking to had opposite sex partners. 

In nearly all of the accounts people said the healthcare professionals would generally assume they were straight. This didn't just have a negative impact in terms of the information given out about treatments, but it also made some people feel they had to keep 'coming out' all the time. Lesley, who has ovarian cancer, said: “It’d be nice if people wouldn’t make assumptions about your husband coming in to visit.”

In addition to this, the people featured in the videos also noted how a lot of the services were designed with straight people in mind. For example, women were directed to look feminine, were offered wigs, and shown how to draw on their eyebrows, while men received none of this support. 

When discussing what could be helpful in improving cancer care for LGB people, those featured in these videos said more recognition of their needs was vital.

Drawing upon the key barriers to improving care, Dr Nagington says: “Our interviewees often approached misunderstandings about their sexuality with humour and were very brave and honest in telling their stories. I think their overall advice would be that professionals should remember that not all patients are straight and sometimes what fits one group isn’t appropriate for all.

“I hope to expand the site in the future to give more detail on the sexual challenges that lesbian and bisexual women can face, as well as interviewing trans* people about their experiences.” 

You can view all of the videos by visiting the website and joining in the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #LGBcancer. 

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