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Breast Cancer Care and Awareness for Trans and Non-binary Individuals

Being trans can mean not being accepted or validated in many facets of society. Unfortunately, this erasure can also occur within the healthcare sector. On this Trans Day of Visibility, we will be highlighting some facts and statistics about breast cancer for trans individuals.

A study conducted by St. Michaels Hospital in Toronto found that compared to cisgender Canadians, trans Canadians are 70% less likely to get screened for breast cancer.1 The study suggested that this may be due to people not being aware that non-cis women can get breast cancer. Another reason for this finding may be due to the experiences that trans individuals go through within the healthcare system.2 This can range from whether or not their gender is affirmed to being uncomfortable with discussing how they identify. Trans men and non-binary individuals specifically, might feel uncomfortable within the breast cancer sphere which is overwhelmingly geared towards women.3 Due to the negative experience that some trans individuals face, research and information is limited in this area.

It is important that trans and non-binary individuals self-advocate for their breast health, however, there is a great onus for the healthcare system to make them feel heard and seen.

Stats and Facts

A study published by The British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that compared to cis men, trans women taking hormones such as estrogen and antiandrogens had a 46% higher chance of developing breast cancer. This is significantly less than the chance of a cis woman developing breast cancer.4

Trans men and transmasculine individuals who undergo top surgery are at risk for developing cancer. Top surgery for trans men is similar to a double mastectomy, except that some breast tissue is left, which means the tissue can later develop cancer.5 However, they may have a decreased risk of developing breast cancer compared to cis women due to the low amount of breast tissue.6

Hormone therapy in trans women means an increase in estrogen, a risk factor for developing breast cancer. Similarly, the risk of developing breast cancer is increased with the use of progestins. Progestins are sometimes used by trans women to suppress the effect of LH (luteinizing hormone) in order to reduce the production of androgen.7

Resources and Self-Advocacy

The Sherbourne Health Centre in Toronto, a reputable centre for trans individuals, released a comprehensive report that outlines guidelines for health and breast care for trans and non-binary individuals. They provided the following guidelines regarding screening:

  • Trans women 50 years or older who have been on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for over five years should get screened every two years.
  • Non-binary and trans men who have not gotten top surgery and do not take testosterone should follow the same screening guidelines as cis women.
  • Trans men and transmasculine individuals who have undergone top surgery should opt for ultrasounds or focused MRIs over mammograms due to the low amount of breast tissue.

Photo by Brian Kyed on Unsplash