Got Breasts? Help Save Lives

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com October 29 2011 12:34 PM ET

While the medical world knows that lesbian and bisexual women tend to have high levels of breast cancer occurrences, doctors want to know more about this growing problem.

Susan Love, MD, one of the leading experts on breast health in the U.S., and an openly lesbian doctor, said that while studying breast cancer on the general population is important, identifying the unifying risk factors and exposures among lesbian and bisexual women will help refine our greater knowledge of cancer.

"For example, women who have never been pregnant tend to have a higher risk of getting breast cancer," she said. As far as identifying specific groups for research, Love said "coming to it as a lesbian myself, you think about things a little differently than when you're coming from a societal normative angle of what we need to know about."



The Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation is teaming up with Ulrike
Boehmer, PhD, at the Boston University School of Public Health to
interview 600 women across the country who have had breast cancer or are
currently dealing with the disease. The 45-minute phone interview
covers questions on subject's health, medical history, demographics, and
sexual orientation.  

Love's foundation does cover a broad range of cancer-related research, which is why she encourages women of all types, regardless of whether they have dealt with breast cancer, to join her group of supporters, known as the Army of Women. Love said that studying the long-term effects of prescribed hormones on transgender people is going to be one of the next areas in LGBT health that need to be addressed.

"Both male-to-female and female-to-male transgender people take hormones that are typically not taken at times of life when you're not generally exposed to them," she said. "Some are taking the hormones at a later age than puberty. How does that effect the breast tissue? And then you have female-to-male transgender people taking androgens, and there is data that the higher level of androgens, the higher your risks are of getting cancer."

Gleaning this sort of data on transgender people, and more information on lesbians and breast cancer, will help researchers understand more about the population at large. Boehmer and Love's research will also help discern new information about breast health and other types of cancers. For example, Love said despite the outpouring of effort to raise breast cancer awareness, there has been little research on the actual structure of the breast. Questions still go unanswered like, How many holes are actually in the nipple? How sterile is breast fluid? Knowing that information, she said, could help lead to a possible cure for breast cancer.

"And on top of it, scientists do all of their research on rats and mice. Rats and mice don't get breast cancer," Love said, "so we really need to figure this out. We really need to do the research on people, and women to get involved."

For more information on how to join the Love/Avon Army of Women, or to participate in the study, visit DSLRF.org/Army.