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Dr. Susan Love: Are lesbians more at risk for breast cancer?

On Saturday, I am speaking at an event at the San Diego LGBT Community Center called "Lesbians & Breast Cancer: A Town Hall Forum."

Whenever I speak at event specifically for lesbians, this is the first question I am inevitably asked to answer:

Is it true that lesbians are at greater risk of getting breast cancer?

The root of this question dates back to 1993, and a lesbian cancer researcher's hypothesis that lesbians might be two-to-three times more likely to develop breast cancer than heterosexual women.

This was primarily due to three breast cancer risk factors that appeared to be more prevalent among lesbians: drinking alcohol, being overweight, and not having been pregnant.

At the time, there was virtually no research on lesbians and breast cancer. And that’s really what the researcher, Suzanne Haynes, was trying to draw attention to — the need to study this group of women.

The good thing is, as a result of her work, these studies are now being done. The bad thing is, her hypothesis led to headlines that screamed, "One in Three Lesbians Get Breast Cancer," and a great deal of fear and concern.

There is nothing about being a lesbian, per se, that puts you at higher risk for developing breast cancer. But some of the lifestyle factors that Haynes identified in the lesbian community were and remain a problem.

However, there are things you can do to address them:

  • Studies have shown that being overweight not only puts you at greater risk of getting breast cancer, but also of being less likely to survive the disease. So, if you are overweight, make this the year you decide to do something about it by exercising more and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. You don’t need to run a marathon. Just start walking around the block a few times instead of sitting down to watch TV.
  • Drinking more than one drink a day just isn’t good for you — for many reasons. We all know that lesbians tend to congregate at bars. But just because you're in a bar, doesn't mean you have to drink alcohol. Start by trying to alternate an alcoholic drink with a non-alcoholic one.
  • Next, don’t use hormones to treat menopausal symptoms for more than three to five years. This means ignore Suzanne Somers or anyone else who tells you that "natural" or "bio-identical" hormones are safe to use after menopause.
  • Most importantly, find a doctor you like, and can trust, and who accepts you for who you are. There are, to be sure, doctors out there who you would never in a million years want to come out to. But there are an increasing number of lesbian docs who would welcome the opportunity to have you as a patient. So, work those lesbian networks and find a doctor, and make an appointment.

As you can see, there is still a lot that we need to learn about breast cancer risk among lesbians. But you don’t just have to sit back and wait for this research to happen.

You can get actively involved in the research by signing up to be part of an amazing project I’ve spearheaded: The Love/Avon Army of Women

We are actively enrolling women and men who are interested in taking part in research focused on what causes breast cancer and how to stop it. You can sign up on the Army of Women website.

You can also get more information about breast cancer on the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation website. The Mission of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation is to eradicate breast cancer and improve the quality of women's health through innovative research, education and advocacy.

About the Forum

Saturday, January 29th, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the San Diego LGBT Center in Hillcrest.

For a map to The Center, click HERE.

This event is free and open to the public, thanks to a grant from the BCAUSE FUND, housed at the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation.

The schedule will begin with a free breakfast at 9 a.m., followed by a presentation and a Q & A session with Dr. Love.

Dr. Love will also be available after the event for a "meet and greet" and to sign copies of the 5th edition of her ground-breaking book, Dr. Susan Love's Breat Book.

Advance registration is highly encouraged and you can do so HERE.

More information about the forum can also be found in a previous article published here on San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.