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LGBTQ Patients Face Unique Skin Risks

Dermatologists cautioned colleagues to be aware of special hazards facing the LGBTQ community: A higher risk of skin cancer among gay men, possibly because of excess ultraviolet exposure, and acne in transgender people, who are especially vulnerable to acne because of hormone therapy.

Dr Matthew Mansh

The identities of sexual minorities “have a significant influence on many facets of health,” dermatologist Matthew Mansh, MD, of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, said in a presentation at the American Academy of Dermatology Virtual Meeting Experience.

In regard to skin cancer, he said, “there seems to be consistently higher rates of skin cancer and certain preventable risk behaviors like indoor tanning among sexual minority men.”

Mansh, codirector of the high-risk nonmelanoma skin cancer clinic at the University of Minnesota, highlighted a report, published in JAMA Dermatology in 2020, that used 2014-2018 U.S. survey data of over 870,000 adults to look at the association between sexual orientation and lifetime prevalence of skin cancer. The investigators found that gay and bisexual men had a higher lifetime prevalence of skin cancer compared with heterosexual men (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.25; 95% confidence interval, 1.03-1.50; P = .02; and aOR, 1.46; 95% CI, 1.01-2.10; P = .04; for gay and bisexual men, respectively).

When compared with heterosexual women, risk among bisexual women was lower (aOR, 0.75; 95% CI, 0.60-0.95; P = .02), but not among lesbian women (aOR, 1.01; 95% CI, 0.77-1.33; P = .95, respectively).

Other studies have reached similar conclusions, Mansh said, although there’s been fairly little research in this area. What could explain these differences? Factors such as smoking, age, and alcohol use affect skin cancer risk, he said, but these studies control for those variables. Instead, he noted, it’s useful to look at studies of ultraviolet exposure.

For example, he highlighted a study published in JAMA Dermatology in 2015, which examined 12-month indoor-tanning rates and skin cancer prevalence by sexual orientation, using data from California and national health interview surveys. The study found that compared with heterosexual men, “sexual minority men had higher rates of indoor tanning by roughly three- to sixfold,” said Mansh, the lead author. “And this was among respondents who were adults over age 18. People between the ages of 18 and 34 years are important from a skin cancer perspective as it’s well established that exposure to tanning beds at a younger age is most associated with an increased risk of skin cancer.”

Sexual minority men were also significantly more likely to report having skin cancer, compared with heterosexual men.

In the study, sexual minority women had about half the odds of engaging in indoor tanning compared with heterosexual women, and were less likely to report having been diagnosed with nonmelanoma skin cancer, he added.

Other studies suggest that gay and bisexual men live in neighborhoods with more indoor tanning salons and that they may spend more time in the sun outside too, he said. Some research suggests motivations for tanning include social pressure and the desire to improve appearance, he added.

Overall, “we may be able to use these data to add more appropriate screening and recommendations for these patients, which are sorely lacking in dermatology,” and to design targeted behavioral interventions, said Mansh, codirector of the dermatology gender care clinic at the University of Minnesota.

Dr Jon Klint Peebles

What can dermatologists do now? In an interview, dermatologist Jon Klint Peebles, MD, of the mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, in Largo, Md., suggested that colleagues ask patients questions about indoor tanning frequency, the motivations for tanning, exposure to outdoor ultraviolet radiation, sunscreen use, and use of photoprotective clothing.

Hormone Therapy and Acne

In a related presentation at the meeting, Howa Yeung, MD, of the department of dermatology, Emory University, Atlanta, said that in transgender people, estrogen therapy can actually reduce sebum production and often improves acne, while testosterone therapy frequently has the opposite effect.

Dr Howa Yeung

“We’ve seen some pretty tough cases of acne in transmasculine patients in my practice,” said Yeung, who highlighted a recently published study that tracked 988 transgender patients in Boston who underwent testosterone therapy. Nearly a third were diagnosed with acne, compared with 6% prior to hormone therapy, and those at the highest risk were aged 18-21.

The prevalence of acne was 25% 2 years after initiation of hormone therapy. “Acne remains a very common issue and not just at the beginning of treatment,” he said.

In 2020, Yeung and colleagues reported the results of a survey of 696 transgender patients in California and Georgia; most were treated with hormone therapy. They found that 14% of transmasculine patients reported currently having moderate to severe acne diagnosed by a physician, compared with 1% of transfeminine patients.

Yeung noted that another survey of transmasculine persons who had received testosterone found that those who had moderate to severe acne were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than were those who had never had acne (aOR, 2.4; 95% CI, 1.1-5.4; P = .001, for depression; and aOR, 2.7; 95% CI, 1.2-6.3; P = .002, for anxiety).

Acne treatments in transmasculine patients are complicated by the fact that hormone treatments for acne can have feminizing effects, Yeung said, adding that it’s not clear how clascoterone, a new anti-androgen topical therapy for acne, will affect them. For now, many patients will require isotretinoin for treating acne.

Peebles cautioned that with isotretinoin, “we still do not yet have solid data on the optimal dosing or duration in the context of testosterone-induced acne, as well as what individual factors may be predictive of treatment success or failure. It is also important to be aware of any planned surgical procedures, whether as part of gender-affirming care or otherwise, given that some surgeons may view isotretinoin as a barrier for some procedures, despite limited data to support this.”

Both Peebles and Yeung noted that the iPledge risk management program for isotretinoin patients who may become pregnant is problematic. “A trans man who is assigned female at birth and identifies as a man and has a uterus and ovaries must be registered as a female with reproductive potential,” Yeung said.

“While the program remains inherently discriminatory, it is important to have an honest conversation with patients about these issues in a sensitive way,” Peebles noted. “Luckily, there is substantial momentum building around modifying iPLEDGE to become more inclusive. While the mechanics are complicated and involve a variety of entities and advocacy initiatives, we are optimistic that major changes are in the pipeline.”

Mansh, Yeung, and Peebles reported no disclosures.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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