DocQ: Lesbians more susceptible to breast cancer – Check today!

breast cancer
Image: @LisaAnnWalter Twitter

The risk of breast cancer in women increases with age. More than 70% of breast cancer occurs in women aged over 50. However, did you know that lesbians are two to three times more likely to develop breast cancer than straight women?  This is because there are certain risk factors for breast cancer that are more prevalent amongst lesbians.

These are:

  • obesity
  • smoking
  • excess alcohol use
  • never having given birth or breastfed
  • not undertaking regular health checks and mammograms

A family history of breast cancer increases your risk.

But… 90% of breast cancer occurs in women without a family history.

Women who have sex with men make routine trips to the GP for contraception or pregnancy care, or check-ups for their children.

GPs offer pap smears, mammograms and general health checks then.

However, women with female sexual partners are less likely to ever visit a doctor for such health checks, seeing as they don’t need birth control and may not have children. Often lesbians are also worried about experiencing homophobia in a medical setting.  This means that, as a population, gay women are underscreened for breast and cervical cancer. They often miss out on important health checks such as blood pressure, cholesterol, skin checks, and lifestyle advice.

Check your breasts regularly

Treatment of breast cancer is more likely to result in cure if it is early.  Late detection reduces the chance of survival.

All women should check their own breasts regularly, just after their monthly period if they have one. Any unusual lumps need  checking by a doctor. If you don’t know how to do this, ask your GP to show you.

After the age of 40, free screening mammograms are available every two years.

This advice is for everyone who has breasts, including trans and non-binary women. Trans men should also be checking their chests – if you’ve not had top surgery then you should be having the same check-ups, and if you have had top surgery then it’s important to check the chest wall for lumps, as sometimes a little breast tissue may be left behind, so there’s still a small but remote risk of breast cancer.

There is no prevention for breast cancer other than having a healthy lifestyle – no smoking, exercise regularly, a diet full of fruit and vegetables, no more than two standard drinks of alcohol a day, and remember to regularly check your breasts.  If you ever find a lump, go straight to the doctor for an examination.

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Dr Fiona Bisshop

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