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Open Access Thesis
Master of Science (M.S.)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
Background: Since the early 1960s, survival rates among cancer survivors have been increasing. Surviving cancer can be a stressful experience due to the multifaceted changes that come with diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Therefore, studying the mental health of cancer survivors is vital for their well-being. Among queer groups (including those identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual), poor mental health is more prevalent than among heterosexuals. However, cancer survivorship among queer populations is not well studied. This study examines the association between cancer survivorship and poor mental health, focusing on potential sexual orientation differences.
Methods: Data are from the 2019-2021 National Health Interview Survey. Participants identified as straight (n=65,006), gay or lesbian (n=1,271), or bisexual (n=1,100). Diagnosis of anxiety and depression as well as the frequency of anxiety and depressive symptoms were regressed on cancer survivorship (assessed based on cancer diagnosis) using logistic models. Using a subsample of 2019 rotating core participants, we assessed anxiety, using the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) scale, and depression, using the Patient Health Questionnaire-8 (PHQ-8) symptoms, to account for a potential lack of diagnosis. Models were adjusted for sociodemographic covariates and were stratified by sex.
Results: After adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics there was no significant association between cancer diagnosis and mental health in the overall sample. However, when examining sexual identity-specific estimates, among bisexual males, cancer survivors had higher odds of “daily” anxiety [OR=8.07 CI (1.23,52.81)] and “weekly or monthly” depressive symptoms [OR=15.23 CI (3.17, 73.22)]. While among bisexual females, cancer survivors had significantly higher odds of anxiety diagnosis [OR=3.03 CI (1.37, 6.71)] than those who never had cancer. Moreover, bisexual male cancer survivors had higher GAD-7 [β =10.39 (4.03, 16.75)] and PHQ-8 [β =13.59 (6.03, 21.16)] scores than those who never had cancer. No other significant associations were found for other sexual identity groups. Our test for effect modification based on sexual identity on the association between cancer diagnosis and mental health outcomes suggested that the association between cancer diagnosis and mental health outcomes were similar across sexual identity groups. The p-values ranged from 0.11 to 0.92.
Conclusion: Bisexual cancer survivors may experience poorer mental health than those who have not had cancer, suggesting a potential need for more targeted mental health intervention and cancer survivorship support. However, small sample sizes suggest that additional work with larger samples of cancer survivors is needed to corroborate these findings.
Fernandez, Pablo, "Sexual Orientation Differences in the Association Between Cancer Diagnosis and Mental Health Outcomes" (2023). Masters Theses. 1310.