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Monday 10 April 2017

Family, sexuality, cancer and risk

Posted in: Health & HIV
By Craig Young - 5th April 2010

There seems to be little collective New Zealand lesbian or gay activity around breast or prostate cancer risk. Why?
Indeed, this seems to be a striking point of divergence between US and New Zealand lesbian communities. US lesbian communities have their own breast cancer prevention and support groups and lesbian breast cancer survival books are available from that country. However, lesbian visibility seems minimal in the breast cancer survivors movement in New Zealand. I've seen little evidence of specific lesbian breast cancer survival or support groups within that quarter, or amongst New Zealand lesbian or bisexual womens community networks.
This could be attributable to the question of genetic legacy. Lesbian breast cancer survivors and their partners may regard fighting cancer encroachment and shared collectivr activity alongside their straight female sisters as paramount. They may feel more affinity toward straight female family/whanau members who have also had to deal with this than with lesbians who have been fortunate enough not to inherit genetic susceptibility or manifest any of the other risk factors.
Prostate cancer is similarly the legacy of genetic inheritance, which means that if one's older male relatives have had to deal with it, heredity may be one of the primary determinants of risk in their context. Unfortunately, while feminism has informed much women's breast cancer activism and encouraged intergenerational dialogue amongst women over genetic risk susceptibility, male gender role stoicism, denial and intergenerational homophobia may prevent similar dialogue amongst gay men and other male relatives about possible genetic susceptibility in our context and inherited risk.
As with lesbian breast cancer survivors, then, gay male prostate cancer survivors are a subset of our communities and sexuality per se isn't the primary risk factor. This may well mean that it receives diminished scrutiny relative to gay male anal cancer risk and cervical cancer risk amongst ex-straight lesbians and bisexual women related to HPV infection and gardasil treatment. Is this just or fair to lesbian breast cancer survivors or gay male prostate cancer survivors fighting for their survival?
As for prostate cancer, some of us will develop it in later life due to the question of genetic susceptibility. If you're a younger gay man, talk to older male relatives about whether or not there's a family history in your own context. If you're a gay or bisexual man in his sixties, have regular medical checkups and make sure there are no problems below the belt. Happily, there's a time-honoured way of reducing prostate cancer risk, known variously as 'gentleman's time,' 'Roger Palm and his five FBs' or 'the solitary helping hand.' The Pope may not be happy about this, but it does seem to reduce one's likelihood of future painful problems south of the border.
What is the prostate? It's a small walnut shaped gland just inside the male rectal cavity which provides the reservoir of fluid for transport of sperm. As those of us who enjoy anal sex can testify, stimulation can lead to pleasurable sensations down there, due to its multiple nerve endings.
In older men, it can swell to the size of a tennis ball. There are some concerns that should promote a visit to one's GP, especially if one has weak urine streams, hesitant and intermittent release issues, frequent nighttime bog visits, bloody urine and painful genitourinary infections. Medication can resolve these before they get too serious.
As for prostate cancer, it may be widespread but not neccessarily fatal. There is another problem, which is that prostate cancer screening isn't infallible and it is difficult to distinguish benign/inactive or malignant lumps. Malignant tumours require repeated surgical excisions to remove, leading to an effective end to one's sex life- but on the other hand, it can save one's life.
So remember, a grapple a day may keep the oncologist away!

Gerald Parlman and Jack Drescher: A Gay Man's Guide to Prostate Cancer: Binghamton: Haworth Medical Press: 2005.
Annie Katz (ed) Breaking the Silence on Cancer and Sexuality: Pittsburgh: Oncology Nursing Society: 2007 [May also be of interest to lesbians and womens health activists]
Margaret Wilmoth and Suzanne Provost (eds) Sexuality and Chronic Illness: Philadelphia: Saunders: 2007.

Craig Young - 5th April 2010

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