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Jul 30, 2008

10 things lesbians should discuss with health care providers

The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) has listed 10 health care concerns lesbians should include in discussions with their physicians or other health care providers.

The medical group ranks breast cancer as the top priority. Other necessary topics include depression, gynecological cancer, diet and osteoporosis.

"Many lesbians and far too many health professionals are not comfortable or do not know how to discuss health issues related to sexual orientation," said GLMA Executive Director Maureen S. O'Leary, R.N. Unfortunately, there are some health risks that are of greater concern to lesbians, and we need to make sure they are addressed."

Gynecologist and former GLMA President Kathleen O'Hanlan, M.D., said that the medical community must look at all factors -- gender, age, family history and current health -- but that there are cultural competence issues involved in treatment of lesbians that many do not understand.

"We know from research," said O'Hanlan, "that lesbians are less likely to seek medical care than other women because of the stigma they experience everywhere in society. They also experience it when they go for medical care. Health care providers may feel uncomfortable asking questions they feel to be personal. They then limit their visit and dash out without counseling the patient.

"Although more research is needed to understand the prevalence and causes," O'Hanlan continued, "there is evidence that lesbians smoke more and drink more. It is also more likely they are overweight, which adds significant health risks."

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