Updated: Jun 5
As we enter LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, we want to take the next few weeks to highlight this community and the unique experiences they may face after a breast cancer diagnosis. LGBTQIA+ includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual individuals.
This week, we turn our focus specifically to lesbian women diagnosed with breast cancer. According to Ulrike Boehmer, this demographic has been found to be at a higher risk for several types of cancer, including breast cancer, due to higher smoking and alcohol use as compared to national averages. However, research has shown that when lesbian women are diagnosed with breast cancer, they report better mental health due to strong social support. Below, you'll find research about how breast cancer uniquely affects the lesbian community, what providers are doing to change and improve the culture and treatment for this demographic, and ways to connect with others with shared experiences. We hope that SurvivingBreastCancer.org can be one of these outlets for you to connect, and we welcome our LGBTQIA+ members during Pride Month and all year long.
As always, let us know your thoughts and how you’d like to contribute to the discussion.
A 2019 study by Ulrike Boehmer, a Boston University School Professor of Public Health, found that women who identify as lesbian or bisexual have less access to post-cancer care, as compared to their heterosexual counterparts. Care after cancer treatment is extremely important to screen for recurrences and long-term effects of cancer treatment. This, along with the fact that "compared to the national average, people who identify as LGBT have substantially higher rates of obesity, smoking, and alcohol use—all known risk factors for cancer," is very troubling. However, Boehmer hopes that by continuing research on the subject, she may bring to light a hidden epidemic. Read More.
Some studies have shown that lesbians diagnosed with breast cancer, especially those in relationships, report better mental health than heterosexual women with breast cancer.
Having a strong support network of one's partner and friends can help encourage healthy coping behavior. "Lesbians reported less denial coping, and more use of support from friends, more venting, and more positive reframing."
Additional reports have found that female breast cancer patients with female partners who are involved in decision-making and caregiving had better health outcomes and less fear of recurrence. Read More.
Support Group Resources
Since having a strong support network has been shown to improve mental health during and after treatment, here is a roundup of some online support groups specifically for lesbians with breast cancer:
SurvivingBreastCancer.org and ABCD Our own organization, in partnership with ABCD, offers personalized mentor-matching services to connect survivors with similar life and breast cancer experiences.
This interview, with Dr. Penelope Damaskos of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, dives into some of the fears and stigma lesbians with breast cancer may face, and how providers can address this to help change culture.
"How patients are questioned about their lives and partners, without making assumptions, will go a long way toward making lesbian women feel understood by their healthcare providers and ultimately more open." Read More.