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Breast cancer affects women and men alike. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports approximately 1.38 million cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year. The highest death rate occurs among those who are economically depressed. People who have limited or restricted access to healthcare also are at greater risk of mortality from the disease. One particular group in the U.S. was found among men and women in the LGBT community. The National LGBT Cancer Network stated, “There is adequate research to confirm we have a unique ‘cluster of risk factors’ that would lead us to have both a greater cancer incidence and later stage diagnosis.” There are several possible factors to account for this increased rate of cancer frequency. First and foremost is the lack of access to LGBT-friendly physicians. The next most likely factor is affordable healthcare and medical insurance costs. Other related factors include the socioeconomic burdens and behaviors linked to the stress of living as a sexual/gender minority in the U.S.
The National LGBT Cancer Network expressly states that lesbian and bisexual (LB) women are more likely to suffer from breast cancer because they typically are less healthy than their straight counterparts. LB women often have higher rates of mental and physical health maladies, including diabetes and asthma. Additionally, they are more likely to smoke and excessively use alcohol as well. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), women who do not give birth are at higher risk for the disease. Smoking, obesity, and alcohol abuse also influence a greater possibility of a mammary gland/tissue cancer diagnosis.
There are similar health disparities found within the transgendered population. While the statistics indicate a lower rate of breast cancer, the ACS explains this is a significant underestimate. The reported small number is believed to be due to their resistance in revealing their transgendered status to their doctors. Male-to-female (MtF) and female-to-male (FtM) individuals have unique situations that contribute to increasing their risks.
Due to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) used in the transition process, the MtF transgendered group are as likely as any woman who has had HRT to receive a diagnosis of mammary gland cancer. Whereas FtM individuals have three major factors involved. First, excessive testosterone can be converted into estrogen, which may lead to increased risk for estrogen-induced health problems, including breast cancer. Second, it is not unusual for FtM individuals to ignore their breasts, and even feel uncomfortable performing breast exams, consequently bypassing the best method of early detection for the disease. Moreover, they are also unlikely to obtain annual mammograms. Third, even after breast removal, they may still be at risk due to the remaining breast muscle in the chest as well as the tissue cells in the nipple area that are still present.
Gay and straight men are also candidates for breast cancer. They have a one in a 1,000 chance of a diagnosis in their lifetime. However, men are also at a disadvantage, as the disease is harder to diagnose because it is typically found deeper within the breast tissue. Gay men and LB women are similar when it comes to negative socioeconomic and health issues that put them into a higher risk group for this cancer.
Thus, all people are in danger of developing breast cancer. Getting older, ill-health, unsafe behaviors, such as smoking and excessive alcohol use, increase the chances of women, men, straight or gay, and transgendered folks’ chances of a cancer diagnosis. Additionally, HRT among women and MtF individuals have seen significant diagnosis increases in recent years. Efficient methods to prevent death related to breast cancer are awareness and early detection. The National LGBT Cancer Network encourages individuals to speak frankly with their physicians, and if necessary, get referrals from local LGBT community centers or online to find gay-friendly doctors.
By Cathy Milne
Edited By Leigh Haugh
World Health Organization–Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October
National LGBT Cancer Network–The LGBT Community’s Disproportionate Cancer Burden
Medscape–Breast Cancer in Lesbians and Bisexual Women: Systematic Review of Incidence, Prevalence, and Risk Studies
Medscape–Breast Cancer in Men Overview of Male Breast Cancer
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