Trans Healthcare and Breast Cancer: What You Need to Know

Trans people may be at a heightened risk of developing breast cancer, but hard facts on this are hard to come by. Why is this, and what do we know about breast cancer risk among the trans population?

Why Might Trans People Be at Heightened Risk?

There are a combination of factors to this, but the first thing that needs to be said is that there is a serious lack of research on this topic, something we’ll go into more below. That means that when we talk about risk here, we’re using information that we’ve been able to infer from other studies on similar population groups or knowledge we’ve gained through other policy drives.

That said, the Dr. Susan Love Research Center points out a few areas where trans people may be at risk. We know that in women who were born gender-affirmed, there is an increased risk of breast cancer if those women have used certain hormone treatments. Therefore, it may be that trans women who are using hormone therapies (for instance, a hormone regimen of estradiol) are at a higher risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer.

Similarly, trans men may also be at a higher risk of breast cancer even after they have had gender-affirming surgery to remove breast tissue. That’s because a small amount of breast tissue will still be present.

To put this in perspective, there are some limited studies on this risk, and it appears that while there is a potential increase in breast cancer risk, it is only slight and so may not be overly concerning. You can see a comprehensive breakdown of relevant data here.

Obviously, there are other risk factors involved here, though, and they may be far more problematic. For instance, trans people may be less likely to get regular screenings for breast cancer and as such may therefore face a risk of developing a cancer that might have otherwise been detected. This could be down to a combination of factors such as being denied breast cancer screenings, or fearing that they may face discrimination.

In addition to this, a trans person’s family history may sometimes be overlooked. We know that women with a family history of breast cancer may have a genetic predisposition that puts them at a much greater likelihood of developing breast cancer. When a trans person is going through gender-affirming medical help, their physician should be made aware of any such history so that an assessment of risk factors can be made and relevant steps can be taken to minimize that risk wherever possible — or at the very least, so that the person undergoing the treatment can feel fully informed about those risks.

Why Don’t We Have Accurate Information on Trans Breast Cancer Risk?  

The simple fact of the matter is that until recently, our health agencies haven’t bothered to track this data because the population is relatively small and, due to other discriminatory factors, money was channeled elsewhere. There are signs that this could soon change, however.

In late 2013, the CDC made clear that trans people are included in the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, a vital service that helps women ensure that they are aware of their breast health and hopefully helps catch breast cancer at its earliest stages. This came as a result of health insurance providers having denied breast cancer screening coverage to trans people based on their trans identity, even though under the Affordable Care Act it is illegal to use trans identity to disqualify someone from coverage in this way.

The Department of Health and Human services has also pledged as part of its Healthy People 2020 program and other initiatives that it will strengthen its health care data for the LGBT population — and that is really what is crucial here. For too long, trans people have been ignored in data gathering efforts and that potentially could be costing them the chance at early detection of certain cancers and thereby increasing their cancer mortality rates. The point is we won’t know until we have accurate information, and for that we need continued funding for these vital initiatives.

So What Can Trans People Do to Cut Down on Their Breast Cancer Risk?

In addition to regular screenings, the advice is the same as it is for people who were born gender-affirmed: lifestyle factors like cutting out smoking and not drinking excessively, exercising regularly and having a healthy diet can all play their part in reducing overall cancer risk. Things like monthly self-exams should also be practiced, and trans people over the age of fifty should have yearly mammograms to ensure their breast tissue remains healthy.

If you’d like to learn simple steps you can take to cut your cancer risk, please click here.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

34 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Hent Catalina-Maria

Thank you

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Janis K.
Janis K4 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Janet B.
Janet B4 years ago

Thanks

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Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper4 years ago

noted

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Fi T.
Past Member 4 years ago

Guidelines for all walks of life

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Rhonda B.
Rhonda B4 years ago

thank you

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Winn Adams
Winn Adams4 years ago

Thanks

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Jack B.
Jack B4 years ago

Thank you

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