Homosexuality and Cancer Risk

Last Modified: March 22, 2012


Does being a gay man put me at a higher risk for cancer? I have heard that may be true, but I am unsure of what the reasoning is. Can you explain?


Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN, OncoLink Nurse Educator, responds:

What sexual practices increase risk? Higher numbers of sexual partners and earlier age of first sexual encounter, both of which may increase your exposure to HPV and your chances of being infected. Studies have found that anal sex can increase the risk of anal cancers and oral sex (performed by or on either sex) can increase the risk of oral cancers. However, HPV can be spread to these areas without engaging in these practices. So, what can you do to decrease risk? Educate yourself about the virus, understand that all sexual activity can transmit the virus (not just intercourse), and learn more about prevention through vaccines and screening tests.

Men who have sex with men are at increased risk of anal cancers, which are in large part caused by HPV. The risk is higher for those with multiple partners and sex without condoms though any anal sex can increase risk. HOWEVER, it is not necessary to have anal sex for the anal tissue to be infected with HPV.

In some high prevalence areas, clinics perform pap tests (same tests used on women's cervix) to test the anal cells. UCSF has some great info about the risk and the use of anal pap testing: http://id.medicine.ucsf.edu/analcancerinfo/

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series. View the entire Cancer Risk & Prevention Webchat transcript.