Conference Coverage

Success in LGBTQ+ medicine requires awareness of risk



Primary care for LGBTQ+ patients should focus on early identification and management of unique health risks, according to a leading expert.

Nicole Nilsy, MD

Dr. Nicole Nilsy

Patients who are transgender, for instance, are nine times more likely to commit suicide than the general population (2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS). Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research. 2019 May 22. doi: 10.3886/ICPSR37229.v1), and those who are also Black have an estimated HIV prevalence of 62%, demonstrating the cumulative, negative health effects of intersectionality (

“Experiences with marginalization and stigma directly relate to some of the poor physical and mental health outcomes that these patients experience,” Megan McNamara, MD, said during a presentation at the American College of Physicians annual Internal Medicine meeting.

Dr. McNamara, who is director of the Gender Identity Veteran’s Experience (GIVE) Clinic, Veterans Affairs Northeast Ohio Healthcare System, Cleveland, offered a brief guide to managing LGBTQ+ patients. She emphasized increased rates of psychological distress and substance abuse, and encouraged familiarity with specific risks associated with three subgroups: men who have sex with men (MSM), women who have sex with women (WSW), and those who are transgender.

Men who have sex with men

According to Dr. McNamara, preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) should be offered based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eligibility criteria, which require that the patient is HIV negative, has had a male sex partner in the past 6 months, is not in a monogamous relationship, and has had anal sex or a bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the past 6 months. The two PrEP options, emtricitabine/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate and emtricitabine/tenofovir alafenamide, are equally effective and have similar safety profiles, Dr. McNamara said, but patients with impaired renal function should receive the alafenamide formulation.

Dr. McNamara also advised screening gay men for extragenital STIs, noting a 13.3% increased risk. When asked about anal Pap testing for HPV, Dr. McNamara called the subject “very controversial,” and ultimately recommended against it, citing a lack of data linking anal HPV infection and dysplasia with later development of rectal carcinoma, as well as the nonactionable impact of a positive result.

“For me, the issue is ... if [a positive anal Pap test] is not going to change my management, if I don’t know that the anal HPV that I diagnose will result in cancer, should I continue to monitor it?” Dr. McNamara said.

Women who have sex with women

Beyond higher rates of psychological distress and substance abuse among lesbian and bisexual women, Dr. McNamara described increased risks of overweight and obesity, higher rates of smoking, and lower rates of Pap testing, all of which should prompt clinicians to advise accordingly, with cervical cancer screening in alignment with guidelines. Clinicians should also discuss HPV vaccination with patients, taking care to weigh benefits and risks, as “catch-up” HPV vaccination is not unilaterally recommended for adults older than 26 years.

Transgender patients

Discussing transgender patients, Dr. McNamara focused on cross-sex hormone therapy (CSHT), first noting the significant psychological benefits, including improvements in depression, somatization, interpersonal sensitivity, hostility, anxiety, phobic anxiety/agoraphobia, and quality of life.


Recommended Reading

‘I think I’m transgender’: A clinician’s guide to next steps
MDedge Internal Medicine
Many unknowns on fertility preservation in transgender patients
MDedge Internal Medicine
Cardiovascular risks elevated in transgender youth
MDedge Internal Medicine
How physicians can provide better care to transgender patients
MDedge Internal Medicine
Transgender hormone therapy linked to blood pressure changes
MDedge Internal Medicine