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Coping Differences between Straight and Sexual Minority Women

Posted 4/23/2013

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  It is always dangerous to make sweeping (or even semi-sweeping) generalizations, and that surely applies to any assumptions about coping. I have read a number of article through the years that compare the Quality of Life (QOL) or coping of straight vs lesbian women with breast cancer, but this study is the first I have seen that breaks it down even further. Speaking only from a perspective of clinical observation, I would be hard pressed to make any statements about differences among groups. Of course, different women process a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment very differently, but I could not generalize about particular groups or populations. The variables have always seemed to be related to the individual and her unique perspectives, resources, and life experiences.

  There are usually lesbian as well as straight women in my support groups, and it has never seemed an area of tension or even difference as we discuss relationships. I have heard, not in groups and only from straight women, occasional comments that lesbian women are "probably better supported and understood by their partners." It is clear where that assumption comes from, but I have not really seen it hold true. On the one hand, another woman may better appreciate the impact of a mastectomy or hair loss, but she may also be more threatened and frightened by what is happening. People are people, after all, and everyone's capacity to be loving and supportive and present is different.

  This is a report from Annals of Oncology about a study that examined coping among breast cancer survivors with a range of sexual identities. The "surprising" finding was differences about rather specific subgroups of women. The not suprising finding was that it really boils down to social support, the presence of a loving and supportive partner, and finances (especially including health insurance). Here is the abstract and a link to read more:

Breast cancer survivors of different sexual orientations:

which factors explain survivors


quality of life and





U. Boehmer1*, M. Glickman2,3, M. Winter4 & M. A. Clark5




Departments of 1Community Health Sciences; 2Health Policy and Management, Boston University, Boston; 3Center for Health Outcomes, Quality and Economics


Research, Bedford;


4Data Coordinating Center, Boston University, Boston; 5Warren Alpert School of Medicine and Public Health Program, Brown University, Providence,




Background: Little is known about differences by sexual orientation in explanatory factors of breast cancer survivorsquality of life, anxiety, and depression.




Patients and methods: Survivors were recruited from a cancer registry and additional survivors recruited through


convenience methods. Data were collected via telephone survey from all 438 survivors, who were disease free and

diagnosed with non-metastatic breast cancer an average of 5 years earlier. To explain quality of life, anxiety, and

depression, we focused on sexual orientation as the primary independent factors, in addition, considering

demographic, psychosocial, clinical, and functional factors as correlates.



Results: Sexual orientation had indirect associations with each of the outcomes, through disease-related and


demographic factors as well as psychosocial and coping resources. The various explanatory models explain between

36% and 50% of the variance in outcomes and identi


!ed areas of strengths and vulnerabilities in sexual minority


compared with heterosexual survivors.




This studys !ndings of strengths among speci!c subgroups of sexual minority compared with


heterosexual survivors require further explorations to identify the reasons for this


!nding. Most of the identi!ed


vulnerabilities among sexual minority compared with heterosexual survivors of breast cancer are amenable to change

by interventions.


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