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Women Who Partner With Women

I run for the truth, for all that is real I run for your mother, your sister, your wife. I run for you and me, my friend, I run for life.

— Melissa Etheridge

In this section, we discuss issues and concerns that relate to lesbians, bisexual women and transgender individuals. Reference to “women who partner with women” is meant to encompass all of the above unless otherwise noted.

What is the risk of breast cancer for women who partner with women?
Women who partner with women have a greater risk of getting breast cancer compared to women who are in heterosexual relationships. This is not because of their sexual orientation. Instead, the increased risk of developing breast cancer is due to risk factors for breast cancer occurring more often in lesbians and bisexual women. They also experience barriers to getting health care.

What special challenges do women who partner with women face?
Lesbians and bisexual women tend to have more risk factors for breast cancer including nulliparity (having no children), higher rates of alcohol and cigarette use, hormone replacement therapy, and obesity. They are also less likely to see a doctor on a regular basis. This could be because of past negative experiences in the health care setting or fear of being treated differently because of sexual orientation. Another reason they are less likely to see a doctor is because they often have no need for birth control. Heterosexual women often have a full gynecological exam when seeking birth control, and it keeps them in regular touch with a doctor.

These types of risk factors place lesbians and bisexual women at risk for other cancers such as uterine, ovarian, cervical, endometrial, colon, lung, and others.

In addition, economic data shows that the gay and lesbian community overall is “medically underserved,” which increases the risk of developing and dying from cancer. In the gay and lesbian community, many people go without health insurance because most work policies do not cover unmarried partners. Most states do not acknowledge marriages between people of the same sex.

Another challenge that women who partner with women face is prejudice in the medical community. They may not feel comfortable with certain providers and thus not go to see a doctor very often. At checkups, routine questions (“Are you sexually active?” “Do you use birth control?”) can be uncomfortable for a lesbian or bisexual woman, especially if she doesn’t want to reveal her sexual preference. Also, questions can be unwelcome when trust has not been established with a doctor.

What can women who partner with women do?

  • See a physician for an annual physical, including regular clinical breast exams and Pap tests. If you are not comfortable with your physician, find one with whom you are. Ask others in your community for referrals or see the Resources at the end of this section.
  • Have an annual mammogram starting at age 40. Before then, you can become familiar with your breasts and breast changes by performing monthly breast self-exam. Organizations such as the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation have free instructions on how to perform BSE, or ask your doctor to show you the correct way to perform BSE.
  • Think about reducing your risk factors for cancer. Do not smoke; consume an average of less than one drink per day of alcohol; and maintain a healthy weight.
  • If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, think about seeking treatment from one of the three Comprehensive Cancer Centers in North Carolina or from another large cancer center. (See North Carolina Hospitals and Cancer Centers).
  • If you need helping paying for mammograms or treatment, see Financial and Other Assistance.

Diagnosis and treatment options for breast cancer are no different for women who partner with women than for heterosexual women. However, resources that specifically address other lesbian health issues are less abundant. Below we have listed a number of organizations that have specific information and support for women who partner with women and have breast cancer. Please also see the other sections of the directory for topic-specific resources for all women (such as diagnosis, treatment, support, etc.).

Transgender Individuals (Female to Male or Male to Female)
The incidence of breast cancer is not well known in this group. However, it is known that transgendered individuals may receive lower quality medical care because of discrimination, stigma, mistrust of the medical establishment, and healthcare providers lacking knowledge about transgender sexuality and identity. Because of these factors, transgender individuals may be less likely to undergo screening and physical exams.

Female-to-male individuals may feel disassociated from their breasts and be less likely to have breast exams. Also, it is possible that male-to-female individuals may be at risk for breast cancer if they have undergone hormone therapy. See the Resources for information on where to find “transgender-friendly” health care providers.

Portions of this section adapted from Sexual Orientation and Cancer from the American Cancer Society, 800.ACS.2345 or



American Cancer Society (ACS)
800.227.2345 or 866.228.4327 (TTY)

ACS Cancer Survivor’s Network offers recorded discussions and interviews with lesbian survivors and their partners as well as a discussion board (call 877.333.HOPE or see

Gay and Lesbian Medical Association

This organization can recommend gay and lesbian-friendly health care providers in your area through an online health care referrals service.

Lesbian Resource Center (Durham)

A grassroots, all-volunteer organization that provides education, information, resources and referrals to “friendly” healthcare providers in the North Carolina Triangle area. Also offers training on health needs of lesbian/bisexual women to healthcare providers.

The Lesbian Community Cancer Project

This agency provides support, information, education, advocacy and direct services to lesbian and non-lesbian women and their families.

Mautner Project for Lesbians with Cancer

Education, information, support and advocacy for
lesbians with cancer and their families and caregivers helps patients identify support groups and lesbian-sensitive health care professionals. Also offers a national Peer Support Network.

Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
972.855.1600 or 800.I’M.AWARE (800.462.9273)

Foundation for breast cancer research, education, screening and treatment. Has free instructions on how to perform breast self-exam. Offers the free fact sheet, “Facts for Life: Women Who Partner with Women & Lesbians” and “What’s Happening to the Woman I Love? Couples Coping with Breast Cancer” booklet.

Books and More

Cancer in Two Voices, by Sandra Butler and Barbara Rosenblum (1996). An account of the authors’ identity as Jewish women and as lesbians as they live with advanced breast cancer, from excerpts in their diaries.

Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic, by Victoria A. Brownworth, Editor (2000). A book about the personal battle of lesbians with breast cancer, with testimonials from lesbians with breast cancer.

Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century: A Book by and for Women, by Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (1998). Covers a range of women’s health issues including breast cancer and addresses the concerns of diverse women, including lesbians.

Web Sites

This health and wellness web site is staffed with
professionals from within the gay community. Includes a section on lesbians with cancer.
A gender education and advocacy organization; helps with the needs, issues and concern of gender-variant people.

North Carolina FTM
A group for “transmen, ftms, genderqueer and intersexed” individuals. Includes resource links and listings of local doctors.



Breast Cancer Resource Directory of North Carolina | Third Edition 2006 - 2007

Copyright 2006, Jamie Konarski Davidson, Women Helping Women, Elizabeth Mahanna, North Carolina Institute for Public Health, and UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Portions of the Breast Cancer Resource Directory of North Carolina may be copied without permission for educational purposes only. The Breast Cancer Resource Directory of North Carolina is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services. The information provided through the Breast Cancer Resource Directory of North Carolina should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your healthcare provider.

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