NEWPORT BEACH, CALIF. – Researchers have shown they can identify transgender leukemia patients by detecting gender-karyotype mismatches, but some transgender patients may be overlooked with this method.
The researchers’ work also highlights how little we know about transgender patients with leukemia and other cancers.
Alison Alpert, MD, of the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center, and her colleagues conducted this research and presented their findings in a poster at the Acute Leukemia Forum of Hemedicus.
“There’s almost no data about transgender people with cancer ... in terms of prevalence or anything else,” Dr. Alpert noted. “And because we don’t know which patients with cancer are transgender, we can’t begin to answer any of the other big questions for patients.”
Specifically, it’s unclear what kinds of cancer transgender patients have, if there are health disparities among transgender patients, if it is safe to continue hormone therapy during cancer treatment, and if it is possible to do transition-related surgeries in the context of cancer care.
With this in mind, Dr. Alpert and her colleagues set out to identify transgender patients by detecting gender-karyotype mismatches. The team analyzed data on patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) or myelodysplastic syndromes enrolled in five Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG) trials.
Of the 1,748 patients analyzed, six (0.3%) had a gender-karyotype mismatch. Five patients had a 46,XY karyotype and identified as female, and one patient had a 46,XX karyotype and identified as male.
“Some transgender patients have their gender identity accurately reflected in the electronic medical record, [but] some transgender patients probably don’t,” Dr. Alpert noted. “So we identified some, but probably not all, and probably not even most, transgender patients with leukemia in this cohort.”
All six of the transgender patients identified had AML, and all were white. They ranged in age from 18 to 57 years. Four patients had achieved a complete response to therapy, and two had refractory disease.
Four patients, including one who was refractory, were still alive at last follow-up. The remaining two patients, including one who had achieved a complete response, had died.
The transgender patients identified in this analysis represent a very small percentage of the population studied, Dr. Alpert noted. Therefore, the researchers could not draw any conclusions about transgender patients with AML.
“Mostly, what we did was, we pointed out how little information we have,” Dr. Alpert said. “Oncologists don’t routinely collect gender identity information, and this information doesn’t exist in cooperative group databases either.”
“But going forward, what probably really needs to happen is that oncologists need to ask their patients whether they are transgender or not. And then, ideally, consent forms for large cooperative groups like SWOG would include gender identity data, and then we would be able to answer some of our other questions and better counsel our patients.”
Dr. Alpert and her colleagues are hoping to gain insights regarding transgender patients with lymphoma as well. The researchers are analyzing the lymphoma database at the University of Rochester Medical Center, which includes about 2,200 patients.
The team is attempting to identify transgender lymphoma patients using gender-karyotype mismatch as well as other methods, including assessing patients’ medication and surgical histories, determining whether patients have any aliases, and looking for the word “transgender” in patient charts.
“Given that the country is finally starting to talk about transgender patients, their health disparities, and their needs and experiences, it’s really time that we start collecting this data,” Dr. Alpert said.
“[I]f we are able to start to collect this data, it can help us build relationships with our patients, improve their care and outcomes, and, hopefully, be able to better counsel them about hormones and surgery.”
Dr. Alpert and her colleagues did not disclose any conflicts of interest.
The Acute Leukemia Forum is organized by Hemedicus, which is owned by the same company as this news organization.