Fiona McMahon PT, DPT (pronouns: She, Her, Hers)-practices in our midtown office
We have talked about prostate cancer many times on this blog. It is an exceedingly common condition and represents 26% of new cancer cases in cis-men, second only to skin cancer, and 14% of cis-men will experience it within their lifetimes. Prostate cancer can affect one’s life dramatically in terms of sexuality, continence, and even their self perception. Even though prostate cancer can have such a dramatic effect on sex and sexuality, there is little information out there on prostate cancer that is not heteronormative. It is estimated conservatively that 3-12% of America’s population self identifies as lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, queer, or questioning (LGTBQ+). For people in this community navigating a heteronormative healthcare system can be alienating, frustrating, and downright dangerous. Today, we are going to take some time to discuss what is known about prostate cancer specifically in men who have sex with men as well as trans women.
Prostate Cancer Basics
Prostate cancer typically occurs later on in life. It is extremely common and its incidence is rising, likely due to a rise in prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing. Prostate cancer is a very survivable cancer with the 5 year survival rate being estimated at 84-92%. Treatment may include radiation, chemotherapy, removal of the prostate, or some combination thereof. That being said, common side effects of prostate cancer treatment include bowel and bladder incontinence, sexual dysfunction and pain. These side effects can be improved with medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes. People who are at risk for prostate cancer are people who have advanced age, African ancestry, live in certain geographic locations, and those who smoke.
Are Men who Have Sex with Men at Increased Risk?
This is the first out of many examples in this blog where we need more research. There are certain conditions that have been associated with men who have sex with men that may be a risk factor or protective against prostate cancer. Men with HIV seem to be an increased risk factor for prostate cancer, however the antiretroviral therapy for it may be protective. See how this is super confusing? Additionally use of supplements, steroids may increase risk for prostate cancer.
These are all pretty strong “mays”. What we do know is that men who have sex with men are less likely to have up to date PSA testing. Black men who have sex with men are even less likely to be up to date with their PSA’s. This fact can be correlated to the subjective experience many men who have sex with men express when navigating a heteronormative healthcare field. We will talk more later about barriers to healthcare in the LGBTQ+ community and ways clinicians can work to reduce these barriers for their patients.
What About Transgender Women?
There is very little reported about trans women with prostate cancer. Prostate cancer in transwomen is relatively rare especially after removal of the testicles. That being said, it can occur if a transwoman has her medical transition later on in life. In the case study cited below, the authors posit that it may be possible for androgen receptors to become more sensitive to androgens when androgens are at a low level. Androgens are produced by the testicles and are thought to contribute to the development of prostate cancer. If small amounts of cancerous or precancerous cells were present on the prostate prior to testicle removal, they may have continued to develop in the presence of the small amount of testosterone produced elsewhere in the body.. All this being said, prostate cancer is a rare condition in transwomen, but it does beg the important questions like, do we remove a woman’s prostate when she is transitioning, which can be a source of pleasure and erotic function for some transwomen. Most experts agree that transwomen with prostates should be screened for cancer. This is an area where more research is definitely needed.
Why One -Size Fits All Fits None
Men who have sex with men and transwomen have different sexual roles and expectations than the hetero and cis-gender community, and applying heteronormative treatment approaches in the sexual rehabilitation of people recovering from prostate cancer can leave a lot to be desired. The prostate can be a huge source of sexual pleasure for some men who have sex with men and some transwomen. Men who have sex with men are much more likely to report that the prostate as a pleasure center than their hetero and or cis counterparts. A prostatectomy can represent a loss, and should be respected as such. Also for men and trans women participating in penetrative anal sex, the erection requirements are different than those required to participate in vaginal penetration. The penis requires much more rigidity to penetrate the anus than it does the vagina, ( We should keep in mind the requirement to be able to participate in penetrative anal sex may be important for men who have sex with women exclusively.) Detailed sexual histories should be taken for every patient.
Tips for Providers
Only 68% percent of LGBTQ+ patients are “out” to their clinicians. This is an important stat to keep in mind when performing an intake and subsequent treatment with patients. Avoiding heteronormative assumptions, like assuming a man with a wedding ring is married to a woman, can be a helpful step in the right direction. Displaying a rainbow flag somewhere in your office can also set the stage for a more open conversation that can help you better address the needs of your patients. To learn more about this population check out our resources below. For people who are used to viewing the world through a heteronormative lense, this can take a concerted effort, but it is well worth it in the name of improving patient care for all of your clients!
We have offices in both midtown and downtown locations. If you are dealing with prostate cancer, please give us a call at
Fiona McMahon PT, DPT practices at our midtown location
Gay & Bisexual Men Living with Prostate Cancer from Diagnosis to Recovery https://www.amazon.com/Gay-Bisexual-Living-Prostate-Cancer/dp/1939594251
A Gay Man’s Guide to Prostate Cancer
Healthcare Equality Index: A tool to find hospitals with established and effective policies for improving LGBTQ+ care http://www.hrc.org/hei/search
Ussher J, Perz J, Simon Rosser B. R. Gay & Bisexual Men Living with Prostate Cancer from Diagnosis to Recovery. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2018. Print
Quinn G, Sanchez J, Sutton S, et al. Cancer in lesbian,gay, bisexual, transgender/transexual and queer/questioning populations (LGBTQ). CA Cancer J Clin. 2015;65(5):384-400
Rosser S, Merengwa E, Capistrant B, et al. Prostate cancer in gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men: a review. LGBTQ Health(3)1. 2016; 32-41
Turo R, Jallad S, Prescott S, et al. Metastatic prostate cancer in transsexual diagnosed after three decades of estrogen therapy.