“I run for hope / I run to feel / I run for the truth / For all that is real / I run for your mother, your sister, your wife / I run for you and me, my friend / I run for life.”
— The chorus from ‘I Run For Life’ by lesbian rocker and breast cancer survivor Melissa Etheridge
In the first part of this story we examine breast cancer issues and concerns that relate to lesbians, bisexual women and transgender individuals. Following this overview is a list of resources that are LGBT affirming.
What is the risk of breast cancer for women who partner with women?
Women who partner with women have a greater risk of developing breast cancer than women in heterosexual relationships. This is not because of their sexual orientation. Instead, the increased risk of developing breast cancer is due to risk factors for breast cancer occurring more often in lesbians and bisexual women. They also experience barriers to getting health care.
What special challenges do LGBT women face?
Lesbians and bisexual women tend to have more risk factors for breast cancer, including nulliparity (having no children), higher rates of alcohol and cigarette use, hormone replacement therapy and obesity. They are also less likely to see a doctor on a regular basis. This could be because of past negative experiences in the healthcare setting or fear of being treated differently because of sexual orientation. Another reason they are less likely to see a doctor is because they often have no need for birth control. Heterosexual women often have a full gynecological exam when seeking birth control, and it keeps them in regular touch with a doctor.
These types of risk factors place lesbians and bisexual women at risk for other cancers as well, such as uterine, ovarian, cervical, endometrial, colon, lung and others. In addition, economic data shows that the gay and lesbian community overall is “medically underserved,” which increases the risk of developing and dying from cancer. In the gay and lesbian community, many people go w
ithout health insurance because most work policies do not cover unmarried partners.
Another challenge lesbians face is prejudice in the medical community. They may not feel comfortable with certain providers and thus not go to see a doctor very often. At checkups, routine questions (“Are you sexually active?” “Do you use birth control?”) can be uncomfortable for a lesbian or bisexual woman, especially if she doesn’t want to reveal her sexuality. Also, questions can be unwelcome when trust has not been established with a doctor.
What can LGBT women do?
• See a physician for an annual physical, including regular clinical breast exams and Pap tests. If you are not comfortable with your physician, find one with whom you are. Ask others in your community for referrals or see the resources at the end of this story.
• Have an annual mammogram starting at age 40. Before then, you can become familiar with your breasts and breast changes by performing monthly breast self-exams (BSE).
Organizations such as the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation have free instructions on how to perform BSE, or you can ask your doctor to show you the correct way to perform BSE.
• Think about reducing your risk factors for cancer. Do not smoke; consume an average of less than one drink per day of alcohol; and maintain a healthy weight.
• If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, think about seeking treatment from one of the three Comprehensive Cancer Centers in North Carolina or from another large cancer center.
• If you need helping paying for mammograms or treatment, seek financial and other assistance by visiting www.bcresourcedirectory.org/directory/07-financial_index.htm
Diagnosis and treatment options for breast cancer are no different for women who partner with women than for heterosexual women. However, resources that specifically address other lesbian health issues are less abundant. Below we have listed a number of organizations that have specific information and support for LGBT women who have breast cancer.
Transgender individuals (female-to-male or male-to-female)
The incidence of breast cancer is not well known in this group. However, it is known that transgender individuals may receive lower quality medical care because of discrimination, stigma, mistrust of the medical establishment, and healthcare providers lacking knowledge about transgender sexuality and identity. Because of these factors, transgender individuals may be less likely to undergo screening and physical exams.
Female-to-male individuals may feel disassociated from their breasts and be less likely to have breast exams. Also, it is possible that male-to-female individuals may be at risk for breast cancer if they have undergone hormone therapy. See the resources for information on where to find transgender-friendly health care providers.
• American Cancer Society (ACS)
800.227.2345 or 866.228.4327 (TTY)
ACS Cancer Survivor’s Network offers recorded discussions and interviews with lesbian survivors and their partners, as well as a discussion board (call 877.333.HOPE or see www.acscsn.org).
• Gay and Lesbian Medical Association
This organization can recommend gay and lesbian-friendly healthcare providers in your area through an online healthcare referral service.
• Lesbian Resource Center (Durham)
A grassroots, all-volunteer organization that provides education, information, resources and referrals to “friendly” healthcare providers in the North Carolina Triangle area. Also offers training on health needs of lesbian/bisexual women to healthcare providers.
• The Lesbian Community Cancer Project
This agency provides support, information, education, advocacy and direct services to lesbian and non-lesbian women and their families.
• Mautner Project for Lesbians with Cancer
Education, information, support and advocacy for lesbians with cancer and their families is available. The organization also helps caregivers and patients to identify support groups and lesbian-sensitive healthcare professionals. Also offers a national Peer Support Network.
• Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
Foundation for breast cancer research, education, screening and treatment. The site has free instructions on how to perform BSE and offers the free fact sheets “Facts for Life: Women Who Partner with Women & Lesbians” and “What’s Happening to the Woman I Love? Couples Coping with Breast Cancer.”
• “Cancer in Two Voices” by Sandra Butler and Barbara Rosenblum (1996). An account of the authors’ identities as Jewish women and as lesbians as they live with advanced breast cancer. From excerpts in their diaries.
• “Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic” by Victoria A. Brownworth, Editor (2000). A book about the personal battle of lesbians with breast cancer, with testimonials from lesbians with breast cancer.
• “Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century: A Book by and for Women” by Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (1998). Covers a range of women’s health issues including breast cancer and addresses the concerns of diverse women, including lesbians.
This health and wellness website is staffed with professionals from within the gay community. Includes a section on lesbians with cancer.
A gender education and advocacy organization; helps with the needs, issues and concerns of gender-variant people.
• North Carolina FTM
A group for “transmen, ftms, genderqueer and intersexed” individuals. Includes resource links and listings of local doctors.
Please tell 10 friends to tell 10 today!
The Breast Cancer Site is having trouble getting enough people to click on their site daily to meet the quota needed to donate at least one free mammogram a day to an underprivileged woman. It takes less than a minute to go to their site and click on ‘donating a mammogram’ for free (pink window in the middle).
This doesn't cost you a thing. Their corporate sponsors/advertisers use the number of daily visits to donate mammograms in exchange for advertising.
Here's the website address — www.thebreastcancersite.com. Pass it along to people you know.