October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time dedicated to educating the public about breast cancer and raising money for research on the disease’s cause, prevention, and cure.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a cancerous (malignant) tumor that starts from cells in breast tissue. It is the second most common and deadly cancer for American women. However, many individuals who are diagnosed with breast cancer are able to live long lives because of improvements in screening and treatment.
How does breast cancer affect transgender individuals?
There is not nearly enough research on how transgender people are affected by breast cancer or any other disease but those who work on transgender health note the following:
- For a transgender woman, the risk of breast cancer increases following breast development and five or more years of hormone therapy.
- For a transgender man, excessive testosterone can be converted into estrogen by the body, which leads to increased cancer risk. Additionally, transgender men may feel uncomfortable with either self-exams or medical exams, and may not realize that top surgery does not remove all breast tissue. Self-examination is a useful prevention tool that can be life-saving, regardless of a person’s gender.
We strongly encourage you to speak with your doctor about what screening and prevention measures are most appropriate for you and for your body.
What are the risk factors for breast cancer?
Women are more likely than men to have breast cancer; both transgender men and transgender women can be at risk. Besides gender, other risk factors for breast cancer include:
- Increasing age;
- A family history of or genetic susceptibility to breast cancer;
- A history of radiation treatment to the chest wall;
- A history of breast biopsies;
- Nulliparity (which means never having been pregnant);
- Having children after age 30;
- Beginning menstruation before 12 years of age;
- Undergoing menopause after 55 years of age;
- Excessive alcohol consumption;
How can I reduce my risk of developing breast cancer?
Even though some risk factors for developing breast cancer cannot be changed, like your family history, you can reduce your risk for breast cancer through healthy eating habits, drinking in moderation, and exercising regularly. Annual mammograms are recommended for those over 50, and some organizations recommend them for those over 40. Monthly breast self-exams may also help to ensure early detection.
To learn more about breast cancer, please visit the following websites:
- American Cancer SocietyBreast Cancer
- American Cancer Society, Transgendered and Transsexual Individuals: Access to Care and Cancer Disparity Fact Sheet
- American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Breast Cancer Screening Recommendations
- Fenway Health, Breast Cancer Screenings at Fenway
- Gay & Lesbian Medical Association, Ten Things Transgender People Should Discuss with Their Health Care Providers
- National Breast Cancer Awareness Month