The Role of Cancer Screening

Emerging findings indicate that delayed cancer screening in transgender patients may be a key factor contributing to disparities in outcomes between these patients and cisgender patients. 

“I did a study of transgender cancer screening experiences,7 and transgender men shared stories of avoiding care until they were in extreme pain because of bad experiences in the health care system and lack of provider knowledge of how to care for them,” said Mandi L. Pratt-Chapman, PhD, an associate professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, DC. Dr Pratt-Chapman is also the associate center director for community outreach, engagement, and equity at the GW Cancer Center.


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In a retrospective case series of 37 transgender cancer patients, Dr Liu and colleagues described a patient assigned female at birth who underwent gender-affirming bilateral mastectomies and later noticed a chest wall mass, which the patient’s previous physician said was “consistent with fat redistribution after surgery.”8 

This led to a diagnostic delay of more than 1 year. The patient ultimately received a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer and died of the disease. 

“This finding suggests that practitioners should continue to screen and consider diagnoses that may be associated with” a patient’s sex assigned at birth, the authors wrote.8

Dr Pratt-Chapman highlighted the importance of knowing a patient’s exogenous and endogenous hormone balance, past surgeries, and natal and present organs if clinically relevant, and she recommended that clinicians base treatment planning on these characteristics. For instance, breast cancer screening should be recommended for a patient older than 50 years who has breast tissue.9

Providing Gender-Affirming Cancer Care 

Dr Pratt-Chapman advised oncology providers to “be open and affirming in your communication with transgender and gender-diverse patients,” and develop policies and protocols that support inclusive care. For example, intake forms should ask about preferred names and pronouns, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The GW Cancer Center has created downloadable patient cards to be used for this purpose. 

Additionally, electronic health record templates should be designed to collect these details along with information about the patient’s present anatomy and past surgeries. Providers should be trained and monitored to ensure the systematic collection of these data, and they should be educated on the “relevance of these data to cancer prevention, screening, treatment, and survivorship,” Dr Pratt-Chapman said. 

In a recent survey of American Society of Clinical Oncology members, Dr Pratt-Chapman and colleagues found that less than half of respondents reported collecting such data.10

“We know that clinicians are hesitant to ask about gender identity, don’t feel comfortable asking, or don’t know how to ask,” Dr Boehmer noted. She suggested that clinicians take the opportunity to receive training on these and other aspects of caring for transgender patients. 

“Providers should have knowledge about interactions between cancer treatments and gender-affirming therapies” and discuss these issues with patients,” Dr Liu added. As an example, the induction of early menopause due to cancer treatment may influence decisions regarding gender-affirming hormone therapy.8 

“In addition, multidisciplinary care between primary care, providers of gender-affirming therapy, and oncologists may be beneficial, particularly in pediatric and young adult patients,” Dr Liu said.

In considering patients’ social determinants of health as they undergo cancer treatment, clinicians may need to refer patients to social services, additional medical services, or psychosocial support, according to Dr Boehmer. “Before they make these recommendations, it is important to ensure that the intended referrals are competent and adequately trained to interact [with] and assist transgender patients,” Dr Boehmer added.

Providers should remain aware of the “background of stigma, rejection, and discrimination that transgender patients bring with them as they begin with their cancer diagnosis and treatment,” Dr Boehmer said. “Providing patient-centered care to transgender patients will require a caring, attentive, and open-minded clinician who dedicates the time and effort to address transgender patients’ preferences and needs.”

Disclosures: All interviewees reported having no relevant disclosures.

References 

1. Herman JL, Flores AR, O’Neill KK. How many adults and youth identify as transgender in the United States? UCLA: The Williams Institute. 2022. Accessed September 21, 2022. 

2. Johnson AH, Hill I, Beach-Ferrara J, Rogers BA, Bradford A. Common barriers to healthcare for transgender people in the U.S. Southeast. Int J Transgend Health. 2020;21(1):70-78. doi:10.1080/15532739.2019.1700203

3. Warner DM 2nd, Mehta AH. Identifying and addressing barriers to transgender healthcare: Where we are and what we need to do about it. J Gen Intern Med. 2021;36(11):3559-3561. doi:10.1007/s11606-021-07001-2

4. Safer JD, Coleman E, Feldman J, et al. Barriers to healthcare for transgender individuals. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2016;23(2):168-171. doi:10.1097/MED.0000000000000227

5. Jackson SS, Han X, Mao Z, et al. Cancer stage, treatment, and survival among transgender patients in the United States. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2021;113(9):1221-1227. doi:10.1093/jnci/djab028

6. Boehmer U, Gereige J, Winter M, Ozonoff A, Scout N. Transgender individuals’ cancer survivorship: Results of a cross-sectional study. Cancer. 2020;126(12):2829-2836. doi:10.1002/cncr.32784

7. Pratt-Chapman ML, Murphy J, Hines D, Brazinskaite R, Warren AR, Radix A. “When the pain is so acute or if I think that I’m going to die”: Health care seeking behaviors and experiences of transgender and gender diverse people in an urban area. PLoS One. 2021;16(2):e0246883. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0246883

8. Burns ZT, Bitterman DS, Perni S, et al. Clinical characteristics, experiences, and outcomes of transgender patients with cancer. JAMA Oncol. 2021;7(1):e205671. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.5671

9. Sterling J, Garcia MM. Cancer screening in the transgender population: A review of current guidelines, best practices, and a proposed care model. Transl Androl Urol. 2020;9(6):2771-2785. doi:10.21037/tau-20-954

10. Kamen CS, Pratt-Chapman ML, Meersman SC, et al. Sexual orientation and gender identity data collection in oncology practice: Findings of an ASCO survey. JCO Oncol Pract. 2022;18(8):e1297-e1305. doi:10.1200/OP.22.00084

This article originally appeared on Cancer Therapy Advisor