Lesbians and Breast Cancer
This is an interesting article from Dr Susan Love's website (www.dslrf.org). We think that the incidence of breast cancer is slightly higher among lesbian women than among straight women, but there is a lot of fog around these statistics. Start with this reality: some lesbian women may not feel comfortable coming out to their doctors, so the research probably has not included everyone. I am very fortunate to work at an institution which is truly, I think/I hope, sexual-orientation-blind. In my own clinical practice, I am always working with a few lesbian women, and there are usually lesbian women in my support groups. It has never been an issue, and I am not aware of any differences in their experiences of breast cancer.
Here is the start of this article and then a link:
What do we know about lesbians and breast cancer? Not enough!
By Liz Margolies
So far, the information we have on breast cancer in lesbians has been both limited and contradictory. The large national cancer registries and surveys of cancer incidence have not collected data about sexual orientation, leaving lesbians embedded and invisible among this vast wealth of information. Other ethnic, geographic, and racial groups have been able to use the data gleaned from these statistics to develop programs to develop programs dedicated to eroding the health disparities they face. They know precisely how prevalent cancer is in their communities. Lesbians don't.
A handful of studies have specifically addressed lesbian cancer risks and experiences, but their findings have been inconsistent. Furthermore, the sample sizes have been too small for us to draw reliable conclusions. To overcome these problems, we need more organizations like the Lesbian Health Research Center at the University of California San Francisco and the major financial backing that will allow researchers to conduct the large studies that will give us insights into cancer risk and incidence among lesbians.
Some researchers have theorized that lesbians may have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. This is not due to any physiological or genetic differences between lesbians and heterosexual women. Instead, it's because of a theory often referred to as the "cluster of risk factors." Studies have found that certain cancer risk factors are higher among lesbians. It's also been noted that these risk factors are linked to behaviors that stem from the stress and stigma of living with homophobia and discrimination.
We know that most women who get breast cancer don't have any of the known risk factors. We also know that many people with known risk factors never develop cancer. But what does it mean when a population has a "cluster of risk factors?" Will they have an increased risk? Nobody knows. That's why we need more research!