Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Lesbian Breast Cancer Link: Do a Cluster of Risk Factors Explain the High Number of Cancer Deaths?

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Lesbian Breast Cancer Link: Do a Cluster of Risk Factors Explain the High Number of Cancer Deaths?

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

IN THE PAST TWO DECADES alone, numerous lesbian icons have been lost to cancer, including poet Audre Lorde in 1992, lawyer Paula Ettelbrick in 2011, and in July, astronaut Sally Ride. But it's not just the high-profile people at risk. A link between lesbians and cancer, particularly breast cancer, is more than speculation, say experts. While no cancer registries collect data about sexual orientation, and existing studies have been too small to be considered conclusive, experts believe that lesbians have an increased risk of developing breast cancer, based on a cluster of risk factors that are more common among lesbians.

"There is nothing specific about the lesbian lifestyle which would cause and increase their breast cancer risk," says Susan Love, MD, the lesbian founder of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation "However, many of the classic risk factors for breast cancer are more common in lesbians."

Those risk factors include smoking, drinking alcohol, obesity, and infrequent pregnancy. While these habits aren't unique to lesbians, they're much more common among gay and bisexual women. Liz Margolies, executive director of the National LGBT Cancer Network, says cancer disproportionately affects lesbians, but not because their bodies are any different from those of heterosexual women. "The increased risks we have are a result of behaviors, many of which result from the stigma of being gender and sexual minorities," she says.

Social factors, they agree, are also worth noting. Lesbians are less likely to have health insurance, less likely to get screened for fear of culturally incompetent health care providers, and butch women may have an especially difficult time paying attention to their breasts. …

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