Breast cancer is a disease that affects millions of women around the world, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+). Of course, breast cancer can also affect anyone including nonbinary people, transgender folx, and men. Unfortunately, members of the LGBTQ+ community often face unique challenges in accessing healthcare and receiving adequate care, which can increase their risk of developing breast cancer and may result in late diagnosis and poor outcomes.
When LGBTQ+ people are diagnosed with breast cancer, they experience delays in diagnosis and are three times more likely to have the breast cancer come back (recurrence) than people who are heterosexual and cisgender, according to a recent study. (1)
Discrimination, stigma, and systemic inequalities can make it difficult for LGBTQ+ individuals to access healthcare and receive the care they need. Social determinants of health, defined as the “conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age,” often play a significant role in the health outcomes of LGBTQ individuals.
For example, transgender people may face barriers in accessing healthcare due to discriminatory policies and attitudes. Studies have shown that transgender and nonbinary people are less likely than cisgender women to receive mammograms and other breast cancer screening which may contribute to later diagnoses and higher mortality rates. Bisexual women have also been shown to be less likely to receive mammograms. (2)
Lesbian women may also be at higher risk of breast cancer due to factors such as fewer pregnancies. Additionally, they may face barriers in accessing healthcare due to discrimination, particularly if they live in areas with few LGBTQ+ friendly healthcare providers. (3)
To address these disparities, there is a growing movement for LGBTQ+ health equity, which aims to ensure that all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, have access to equitable and affirming healthcare. This includes providing culturally competent care, confidential and respectful treatment, and addressing the unique health needs of LGBTQ+ individuals.
Efforts are also underway to integrate LGBTQ health concerns into breast cancer research and treatment. For example, the National LGBT Cancer Network is a national organization that provides resources and support for LGBTQ individuals with cancer, including breast cancer. Other organizations, such as the LGBT Community Center in New York City, offer support groups specifically for LGBTQ+ individuals with breast cancer.
In conclusion, breast cancer is an important health issue for the LGBTQ+ community. Addressing the social determinants of health that contribute to health disparities within this community is essential to ensuring that all individuals have access to equitable and affirming healthcare, including breast cancer screening and treatment. With increased awareness and efforts towards LGBTQ+ health equity, we can work towards a future where all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, can receive the care they need and deserve.
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1 Journal JAMA Oncology. “Breast Cancer Diagnosis, Treatment, and Outcomes of Patients From Sex and Gender Minority Groups.” Feb. 2, 2023
2 Boston School of Public Health, “Transgender Patients, Bisexual Women Less Likely to Have Mammograms“, Nov 2, 2015
3 Women’s Health Issues. “Comparing breast cancer risk between lesbians and their heterosexual sisters“, March, 2004