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.
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.
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
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
These types of risk factors
place lesbians and bisexual women at risk
for other cancers such as uterine, ovarian,
cervical, endometrial, colon, lung, and
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
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
can women who partner with women do?
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,
(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.
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
this section adapted from Sexual Orientation
and Cancer from the American Cancer
Society, 800.ACS.2345 or www.cancer.org.
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 www.acscsn.org).
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
lesbians with cancer and their families and
caregivers helps patients identify support
groups and lesbian-sensitive health care
professionals. Also offers a national Peer
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
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.
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.
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.
This health and wellness web site is staffed
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.