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How can doctors better serve LGBTQ patients? More training, Moffitt says.

The cancer center is undertaking a national study aimed at widening education for oncologists.
The entrance to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
The entrance to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. [ Courtesy of Moffitt Cancer Center ]
Published Sep. 21, 2020|Updated Sep. 21, 2020

Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center is set to launch a national study aimed at training more oncologists to better understand the unique needs of their LGBTQ patients and prevent the disparities that often affect their care.

The study will expand a Florida-based trial of an online training program developed at Moffitt to include physicians across the country.

The program, developed in 2018, is known as COLORS, which stands for Curriculum for Oncologists on LGBTQ populations to Optimize Relevance and Skills.

It offers four 30-minute online sessions on topics such as sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as more oncology-focused topics like fertility and hormone therapy.

The training is the first of its kind to focus on cancer care for LGBTQ patients, said Dr. Matthew Schabath, principal investigator of the study and associate member in the Cancer Epidemiology Program at Moffitt.

Dr. Matthew Schabath [Courtesy of Moffitt Cancer Center]
Dr. Matthew Schabath [Courtesy of Moffitt Cancer Center]

The effort to expand the training comes about 18 months after a nationwide survey, also led by Schabath, in which only half of oncologists said they were confident they understood the health needs of LGBTQ patients.

“This has been a historically marginalized population," said Schabath, who’s goal is to improve knowledge, attitudes and practices for oncologists towards LGBTQ patients.

The fact that oncologists often specialize their practice on a particular illness or organ can make it easy to forget the entirety of the patient, said Dr. Luke Johnson, medical director for Metro Inclusive Health, an organization that offers health care and support to a diverse group of patients in Tampa Bay. However, it’s important “to make people aware of particular concerns of LGBTQ patients,” Johnson said.

Trainings for medical professionals surrounding LGBTQ wellness open the discussion for more inclusive health care, Johnson said. The particular needs of LGBTQ patients can range from finding a cancer treatment that works well with the hormones sometimes used by transgender patients to arranging family and social support for those with a life-changing diagnosis.

“The patients need to feel comfortable to disclose, and the physician needs to be comfortable to discuss," said Johnson.

For Moffitt’s national study, set to begin next month, researchers will invite participation by nearly 2,000 oncologists, selected randomly by the American Medical Association database. The goal is to enlist 600 of them over a six-month period. Some will receive COLORS training while others will take part in a general LGBTQ health education training.

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Following those sessions, participating physicians will be surveyed. The results will help researchers improve their educational programming through highlighting strengths, weakness and limitations of the COLORS program.

“After we make sure we have a proven education program for oncologists, our goal is to work our way all the way through care delivery,” said Schabath, who hopes the training will be adjusted for other health care professionals across the country, including nurses and physicians assistants.

This story was funded in part through a grant from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. Donors are not involved in the reporting or editing process.

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