LGBT COMMUNITY AND BREAST CANCER

Significant health disparities exists in the LGBT community, however, most in this community are unaware of these risks. The American Cancer Society (ACS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported higher prevalence of anal cancer, and expected higher risks for lung and breast cancer. An analysis of research reported by Shahbaz Khan, MBBS, MPH, and Richard De Witt indicated lesbian/bisexual women show higher prevalence of obesity; tobacco and alcohol use; and nulliparity (not having children) which are common risk factors for breast cancer. The research on breast cancer screening in the LGBT community indicated an underutilization of early detection screenings (Breast Self-Exam, Clinical Breast Exams, and Mammograms) and prevention activities (exercise, weight control, limited alcohol use, non-smoking, healthy eating). Treatment services targeting the LGBT community is needed to create better access for cancer screenings.

The reviewed research literature by Shahbaz Khan, MBBS, MPH, and Richard De Witt (2004) highlights some key issues:

  • Lesbians may use alcohol and tobacco at rates higher than women in the general population. Both factors have some association with cancer risk.
  • Lesbians may have higher rates of obesity. The relationship of obesity to breast cancer has been demonstrated as an overall risk factor for various health problems. At the same time, lesbian perception of body image does not follow national trends. Lesbians may have a tendency of not perceiving themselves as obese even if they can be categorized as such by scientific standards
  • As expected, rates of nulliparity (not having children) are high among lesbian populations. Researchers consider nulliparity as a risk factor for breast cancer.
  • Lesbians may not utilize health care services to the same degree as women of the general population. A number of reasons may cause these low utilization trends including homophobia (both external and internal) and discrimination by providers. In addition, most medical insurance providers do not recognize lesbian partnerships and cost of services may be an additional factor for low rates of use of healthcare services among lesbians.
  • Lesbians may not practice BSE or undergo mammography at the same rate as women of the general population. There may be a number of reasons for this trend. Homophobia and discrimination may be the key factors. Some lesbians may believe that they would notice if something were wrong.
  • The sources and mechanisms of emotional and social support available to lesbian women may differ from the support available to other women. Lesbians may receive more emotional support from friends and partners rather than from their families.
  • Lesbian women who participated in some of the studies reported higher rates of receiving counseling than heterosexual women. Lack of social support through group therapy or group events was evident, although research examined demonstrated the value of group support.
Khan, S. and De Witt, R. (2004). Lesbians & Breast Cancer: the Latest Research retrieved on August 9, 2011 at http://www.safeguards.org/?p=3.
The National LGBT Cancer Project (2008). Transgendered/Transexual Breast Cancer retrieved on August 9, 2011 at http://lgbtcancer.com/transgenderedtransexual-breast-cancer/.
Edge (2010). LGBT Americans More Susceptible to Certain Forms of Cancer retrieved on August 9, 2011 at http://www.edgeboston.com/index.php?ch=news&sc=&sc3=&id=103868&pf=1.