Queering sexual health: UMN professor tackles prostate cancer

A University epidemiology professor received $3 million for a study to survey 450 gay and bisexual men.

by Bella Dally-Steele

Five years after his husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer, a University of Minnesota professor is working to improve rehabilitation treatment for LGBT survivors of the disease.

On Tuesday, Simon Rosser, an epidemiology professor at the University of Minnesota, received a $3 million National Cancer Institute grant to study the rehabilitation of LGBT prostate cancer survivors. The study is the first NIH-funded study of its kind. 

The study will survey 450 people — the largest pool in the field to date.

“Gay and bisexual men with prostate cancer is a hidden population,” Rosser said. “If you go to a doctor tomorrow and you’re a gay man with prostate cancer, the doctor cannot advise you about what works because the scientists haven’t conducted the studies.”

After the treatment, which often includes the removal of the prostate, many prostate cancer survivors experience sexual repercussions, Rosser said. One of his recent studies shows that consequences, like change in orgasm or erectile difficulties, disproportionately affect men who have sex with men.

Because of these repercussions, sexual functioning after surgery is the leading predictor of quality of life.

Despite sexual functioning’s importance, Rosser said he and his husband found little guidance when they sought resources for rehabilitation.

“I tried to study up on prostate cancer in gay and bisexual men, and there was almost nothing in the literature,” he said. “When we asked clinicians what kind of rehabilitation we should do or what could be helpful, nobody had any answers.” 

Last year, Rosser applied for the NIH grant to find those answers.

His study will test various rehabilitation techniques to find which ones doctors should recommend to patients.

The study will be conducted online to reach a national pool of cancer survivors. 

Rosser said he hopes to determine what rehabilitation methods can help those who underwent the surgery years ago, as well as recent patients.

Expanding LGBT health awareness

While Rosser and his husband found their care impeded by a pure lack of research, Coralie Pederson, nurse practitioner at Boynton Health Services, said most patients run into care issues due to a lack of communication, either between physicians and patients, or patients and insurance companies.

To overcome these barriers, Pederson said the clinic continuously trains employees on how to use preferred pronouns, network with other local LGBT-specific health care professionals and navigate various insurance companies’ coverage options for hormones and other gender-identity specific care.

Providing patients with this kind of LGBT-specific care improves the quality of patients’ lives, said Stef Wilenchek, director of the Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life, in an email.

“More accurate information helps queer and trans students feel more comfortable accessing health care, reduces stress in having to educate health providers, and helps amplify the need for culturally responsive health care,” Wilenchek said.