Lesbians have the greatest concentration of risk factors for this cancer of any subset of women in the world. Combine this with the fact that many lesbians over 40 do not get routine mammograms, do breast self-exams or have a clinical breast exam, and the cancer may not be diagnosed early when it is most curable.
Lesbians have been shown to experience chronic stress from homophobic discrimination. This stress is compounded by the need that some still have to hide their orientation from work colleagues, and by the fact that many lesbians have lost the important emotional support others get from their families due to alienation stemming from their sexual orientation.
Lesbians have higher risks for some of the gynecological cancers. What they may not know is that having a yearly exam by a gynecologist can significantly facilitate early diagnosis associated with higher rates of curability if they ever develop.
Research confirms that lesbians have higher body mass than heterosexual women. Obesity is associated with higher rates of heart disease, cancers and premature death. What lesbians need is competent advice about healthy living and healthy eating, as well as healthy exercise.
Research indicates that illicit drugs may be used more often among lesbians than heterosexual women. There may be added stressors in lesbian lives from homophobic discrimination, and lesbians need support from each other and from health care providers to find healthy releases, quality recreation, stress reduction and coping techniques.
Research also indicates that tobacco and smoking products may be used more often by lesbians than by heterosexual women. Whether smoking is used as a tension reducer or for social interactions, addiction often follows and is associated with higher rates of cancers, heart disease and emphysema — the three major causes of death among all women.
Alcohol use and abuse may be higher among lesbians. While one drink daily may be good for the heart and not increase cancer or osteoporosis risks, more than that can be a risk factor for disease.
Domestic violence is reported to occur in about 11 percent of lesbian homes, about half the rate reported by heterosexual women. But the question is, where do lesbians go when they are battered? Shelters need to welcome and include battered lesbians, and offer counseling to the offending partners.
The rates and risks of osteoporosis among lesbians have not yet been well characterized. Calcium and weight-bearing exercise as well as the avoidance of tobacco and alcohol are the mainstays of prevention. Getting bone density tests every few years to see if medication is needed to prevent fracture is also important.
Smoking and obesity are the most prevalent risk factors for heart disease among lesbians; but all lesbians also need to get an annual clinical exam, because this is when blood pressure is checked, cholesterol is measured, diabetes is diagnosed and exercise is discussed. Preventing heart disease, which kills 45 percent of women, should be paramount to every clinical visit.
Of course, and it is important to repeat many of the health concerns for lesbians are the same as they are for other women. But we must have a medical community that understands that there are cultural issues — orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, race, economic status — that must be understood as well. For lesbians, the “10 Things” list is a place to start.”