Breast cancer in the rainbow community – is there an increased risk?
Studies around the risk for breast cancer among the LGBTIQ+ community are varied but there is some evidence to suggest that lesbian women may be at greater risk of breast cancer than heterosexual women partly due to fewer oestrogen breaks related to pregnancy and childbirth.1, 2, 3
It is also known that LGBTIQ+ people can have reservations about using healthcare services.4 Reasons for this could include perceived low risk of breast cancer and fear of discrimination.5
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to medical professionals, you’ll be less likely to want to show breast changes to your doctor, and may be less likely to have regular mammograms. Not having regular screening mammograms, or seeking help from medical professionals, means that the individual is more likely to present with breast cancer at a later stage of disease – when it’s more difficult to treat. This puts the person at a greater risk of dying from breast cancer.
What about transgender people?
Again, there isn’t a lot of scientific data in this area so it’s best to talk to your doctor about your unique risk. However, the limited evidence suggests that if you transition from male-to-female, and are taking certain hormones, you may have the same breast cancer risk as a cisgender woman.6 We encourage you to discuss with your GP about enrolling in the free national screening programme through BreastScreen Aotearoa.
If you transition from female-to-male, you are still at risk of developing breast cancer. As men can develop breast cancer – having a mastectomy doesn’t mean that you’re no longer at risk. If you aren’t taking hormones like testosterone, you may have the same risk as a woman. Your risk level isn’t so clear if you are taking hormones but it’s best to continue to be breast aware and talk to your doctor if you notice any changes.6
What can I do?
- Choose an inclusive doctor who you trust
- Know the signs of breast cancer
- Check your breasts at the same time each month from the age of 20, and show your doctor if you notice any changes
- If you are a cisgender woman or trans-woman, consider enrolling in the free national screening programme from age 45.
- Make healthy lifestyle choices to reduce your risk – maintain a healthy weight range, make healthy eating choices, exercise regularly, reduce alcohol consumption, avoid smoking.
- Understand your family health history and your risk
- Freephone our 0800 BC NURSE if you have any questions
- Contact an organisation like OUTLineNZ or Rainbow Youth about LGBTIQ+ health concerns
Breast cancer does not discriminate on the basis of gender, identity, age, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, culture, disability, economic background or education and neither do we. Breast Cancer Foundation NZ believes in inclusion and advocates equal access to all. We offer our free support services including patient and supporter app, mybc, our 0800 BC NURSE helpline, counselling and cancer rehab to anyone who is in need.
We also have a National Educator who is more than happy to visit your community group. You can contact her here.
- Meads, Catherine., Moore, David. (2013). Breast cancer in lesbians and bisexual women: systematic review of incidence, prevalence and risk studies. BMC Public Health, 13:1127. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-1127
- Brandenburg, DL., Matthews, AK., Johnson, TP., Hughes, TL. (2008). Breast Cancer Risk and Screening: A Comparison of Lesbian and Heterosexual Women. Women & Health, 45, 109-130. doi: 10.1300/J013v45n04_06
- Dibble, SL., Roberts, SA., Nussey, B. (2004). Comparing breast cancer risk between lesbians and their heterosexual sisters. Women’s Health Issues, 14(2), 60-68. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2004.03.004
- Hart, Stacey L., Bowen, Deborah J. (2009). Sexual Orientation and Intentions to Obtain Breast Cancer Screening. J Womens Health (Larchmt), 18(2), 117-185. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2007.0447
- Fayanju, OM, MD, MPHS., Kraenzle, S., Drake, BF., Oka, M., Goodman, MS. (2014). Perceived Barriers to Mammography among Underserved Women in a Breast Health Centre Outreach Program. Am J Surg, 208(3), 425-434. doi: 10.106/j.amjsurg.2014.03.005
- Quinn, GP., Sanchez, JA., Sutton, SK., Vadaparampil, ST., Nguyen, GT., Green, BL., Kanetsky, PA., Schabath, MB. Cancer and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transsexual, and Queer/Questioning Populations (LGBTQ). (2015). CA Cancer J Clin, 65(5), 384-400. doi: 10.3322/caac.21288.