Study: Gay men get cancer more often

Bret Camp

Study also finds that lesbians, bisexual women report poorer health than straight women after surviving cancer

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer

A new study released this week in Cancer, a journal published by the American Cancer Society, suggests that gay men have a higher prevalence of cancer than heterosexual men.

Data came from interviews done in 2001, 2003 and 2005 of cancer survivors in California and was the largest state health survey to include questions about sexual orientation.

Lesbian and bisexual women who survived cancer reported poorer health, but in this study did not contract cancer at a higher rate. Male cancer survivors do not report a difference in health levels.

Researchers were not sure if gay men were developing more cancerous tumors or if their survival rate was actually higher. The survey interviewed more than 122,000 survivors. No study has tracked people who died of cancer by sexual orientation.

The study did not look into causes for the differences, but a number of reasons have been suggested.

Gay men smoke at a higher rate than the general population, which may account for some of the higher cancer rate.

Bret Camp, associate executive director of health and medical services at Nelson-Tebedo Clinic, suggested two causes for the difference in rate between gay and straight men.

Certain cancers develop as opportunistic infections related to HIV, which might partially explain the difference, he said. The study did not factor in HIV or track how many participants were HIV-positive.

Camp also suggested that another factor might be the human papillomavirus. HPV is sexually transmitted and can cause anal cancer.

Physician assistant Trew Deckard said, “Ano-rectal cancer is highest among HIV-positive gay men [some literature points to at least 35 times the general population], and the second highest rate of ano-rectal cancer is found in HIV-negative gay men.”

He said that ano-rectal cancer found in greater rates in both HIV-positive and -negative gay men is related to the presence of high-risk HPV types found in these populations.

While smoking traditionally has caused most oral cancer, the rate has jumped 225 percent since 1974. A 2007 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who had oral sex with six or more different partners in a lifetime are almost nine times more likely to contract oral cancer.

According to the report, gay men also developed cancer on average 10 years younger than straight men. Cancers that result from sexually transmitted diseases may account for that difference as well.

Cancer in lesbians

The difference in reported levels of health among women may be a result of a number of factors.

According to Andra Baker who ran a lesbian support group for cancer survivors at Gilda’s Club in Dallas, now known as Cancer Support Community, lesbians tend to access regular health care less frequently than straight women.

“Lesbians don’t go to the doctor as much,” she said.

That may mean that many lesbians and bisexual women are not as likely to detect their cancers at an early stage, making recovery for them more difficult.

The study did not collect information on stage of diagnosis or whether straight women on average report better health because they are recovering from a smaller tumor.

Baker said social support does affect survival and was somewhat surprised by the results showing worse health among lesbian and bisexual survivors.

“Women who attended my group didn’t have lower health or rates of survival,” she said.

But she was working with women who did seek out support, she said.

Baker, who is a survivor herself, said that people who jump into the fight are the ones who do better. She cited Lance Armstrong as an example of someone who adopted a competitive attitude to beat his cancer.

“Stress has a negative effect on the immune system,” she said.

Ulrike Boehmer, one of the study’s authors, put forward the idea of minority stress. Discrimination, prejudice and even violence experienced by lesbians and bisexual women take their toll on psychological health, which can affect overall well being, according to Boehmer.

Just having to come out to each health care provider can be stressful. Hiding people in a survivor’s support system can have a negative effect on recovery, Boehmer said.

She suggested that the study should be used to develop new services for the LGB population including cancer prevention and early detection programs for men and well being programs for women.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: GLAAD slams SNL commercial; UT study on gay cheating; civil unions in Illinois

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. GLAAD is outraged over a Saturday Night Live spoof commercial for “Estro-Maxxx,” which the organization says mocked the lives of transgender people. If the commercial were the least bit funny, we’d accuse GLAAD of not having a sense of humor. GLAAD is demanding that the commercial be pulled from Hulu and all future airings of the show. At the same time, the controversy ensures that thousands of smart people who don’t watch SNL because it’s not funny will see the commercial, which is above.

2. Half of men would forgive their female partner for cheating with another woman, while only 21 percent of women would forgive their male partner for cheating with another man, according to a study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin. This could mean  straight guys are more forgiving and tolerant of homosexuality than straight women, or it could mean they’re just pigs who see a lesbian affair as an opportunity for a three-way.

3. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn will sign a civil unions bill today, in a ceremony that’s expected to draw a capacity crowd of about 900 gays. Meanwhile, a Wyoming House committee voted down a civil unions bill on Friday.

—  John Wright

Born this way

Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why by Simon LeVay Oxford University Press, 2010; $28; 412 pp.

We all have our quirky preferences: Some don’t like it when food touches other food on their plate, or when socks don’t match up. But are our selves shaped by outside influence, or did we enter the world this way? Was our behavior learned or innate? In Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why, you’ll find answers to similar questions of a more intimate sort.

Nearly two decades ago, Simon LeVay published a scientific paper asserting that gay men differed from straight men in their brain structures — specifically, a cluster of nerve cells controlling sex drive in gay men were the same size observed in straight women’s brains. Since publication of that paper, vast amounts of research have probed same-sex attraction and the nature/nurture debate. Here, LeVay takes a deeper look at some of the newer findings.

While some gays and lesbians are surprised later in life by feelings of same-sex attraction, LeVay says that sexual identity, while not always immediately apparent, is present at birth (although women, throughout life, appear to be more fluid). He points to several cases in which male infants were, for one reason or another, “assigned” to live as the opposite sex. In most cases, upon adulthood, the “assignment” turned out to be wrong.

Some theorize that childhood abuse has influenced gayness, but survivors deny it as a factor. Some theories claim that older siblings or domineering parents hold sway. And as for “choice,” LeVay cites several quasi-claims of “conversions” in which therapy reportedly changed sexual preference.

Overall, LeVay says, nothing is cut-and-dried, but the probable reason that someone is gay has to do with genetics, hormones and stress that individuals receive in utero. Studies show, for instance, that mice are influenced by chemicals secreted by their mothers and by littermates. Humans, likewise, are affected in similar ways, which could lay to rest many questions. And one of the hints may literally be at your fingertips.

While there’s no doubt Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why is an intriguing book that makes sense on several levels, there’s one big problem with it: you almost need a Ph.D. to follow much of what LeVay says. It’s steeped in medical lingo, and while LeVay includes a glossary and substantial notes to explain the scientific terms and acronyms, this book is a challenge.

But if you’re up for that challenge, you’ll be rewarded with a thought-provoking examination of a private subject that has a very public focus. LeVay leaves no hypothesis unexamined, which leaves readers satisfied that every corner of this argument has been thoroughly dusted off.

Give yourself some time if you decide to tackle this book, because it’s nowhere near light reading, but it is fascinating — and ultimately a plea for tolerance.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Laser treatment offers alternative to smokers who are trying to quit

Study: LGBTs smoke at more than twice the rate of non-LGBT peers

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor

PAINLESS  |  Xena Sebastian of Anne Penman Laser Therapy of Dallas demonstrates the laser she uses to help smokers kick the habit. She said the laser is a non-invasive and painless alternative to other smoking cessation aids. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

PAINLESS | Xena Sebastian of Anne Penman Laser Therapy of Dallas demonstrates the laser she uses to help smokers kick the habit. She said the laser is a non-invasive and painless alternative to other smoking cessation aids. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

According to a report released in July by the American Lung Association, the smoking rate among gay and lesbian Americans is twice as high as among other Americans.

The report — “Smoking Out A Deadly Threat: Tobacco Use in the LGBT Community” — says that gay, bisexual and transgender men are two to two-and-a-half times more likely to smoke than straight men. Lesbians, bisexual and transgender women are one-and-a-half to two times more likely to smoke than straight women.

And, the report notes, bisexual boys and girls have the highest smoking rates when compared to both heterosexual and LGT peers.

Why? Well there are a number of reasons, the ALA suggests in its report: “possible contributing factors to the LGBT smoking rate includ[e] stress and discrimination related to homophobia, the tobacco industry’s targeted marketing to LGBT consumers, and lack of access to culturally appropriate tobacco treatment programs.”

And quitting smoking is not easy. Studies have indicated the relapse rate for those who quit to be between 75 and 80 percent, even with aids like gums, patches and pills.

But Xena Sebastian believes she has a solution that is almost sure-fire: laser therapy.

Sebastian, a registered nurse, said she spent most of her professional career working in cardiovascular intensive care units, “but I got a little old for ICU duty, which is pretty intense.”

So she began working doing infusion treatments, and from there learned about laser therapy. She now operates Anne Penman Laser Therapy of Dallas.

Sebastian explained that the laser is a holistic, drug-free method of treatment developed by Anne Penman of Scotland specifically to help smokers become non-smokers. And, Sebastian added, the success rate for laser treatments is “higher than any other kind of [stop smoking aid], including gums and patches and pills. The best part is that it is non-invasive, drug free and pain free.”

Penman is based in Scotland, and according to her website, she used laser therapy to end her 60-cigarette-a-day habit in 1991 after her husband, also a longtime smoker, had a heart attack at age 39. That same year, she trained to become a laser therapist, and quickly developed her own protocol for the treatment. By 1994, she was training others to use her protocol.

Sebastian said that laser therapy works along the same lines as acupuncture, using the laser instead of needles to target energy points throughout the body, causing the release of seratonins and endorphins, “the same chemicals that are released when you workout.”

The laser, Sebastian said, “is a healing light that works on an intracellular and cellular level” to help detox the body, flushing out harmful substances, and to dampen that craving for nictotine.

Laser therapy can also be used for pain management and to reduce stress, and there are other applications, as well, although Sebastian said she does not promote laser therapy for those.

All Anne Penman clinics use the Thor Laser, which has been approved by the FDA for “tissue healing, inflammation, pain relief and wounds,” according to the Thor Laser website.

The smoking cessation packages at Sebastian’s clinic cost $499 for three treatments. She said patients come in for their first treatment and are then asked to return within 48 hours for the second treatment. The third treatment can be used down the line if the patient relapses.

Sebastian said many patients are ready to quit smoking after the first treatment, and almost all of them quit after the second treatment.

The package price also includes a supply of nutritional supplements and vitamins that help the patient detox and reinforce healthy habits.

Sebastian acknowledged that the nearly $500 price tag seems high to many people. She also noted that few insurance plans cover the cost of laser treatment to quit smoking.

But, she said, “If you smoke one pack a day and this treatment helps you quit, then you have paid for the treatment in a month and a half” of not buying cigarettes.

Sebastian said she is not condemning other smoking cessation treatments that use pharmaceuticals. “I am a registered nurse. I certainly believe pharmaceuticals have their place. But if you can [quit smoking] without them, with a holistic and non-invasive treatment, then try that first,” she said.

Anne Penman Laser Therapy of Dallas is the only Anne Penman treatment center in Texas. It is located at 6518 LBJ Freeway. For more information, call 214-503-7955, e-mail, or go online to
For more information about Anne Penman and Anne Penman Laser Therapy, go online to For more information about the laser used in Anne Penman Laser Therapy, go online to

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 10, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas