Lesbian and bisexual women as well as transgender individuals will be the subjects of upcoming breast cancer studies taking place later this year.
Currently, Dr. Ulrike Boehmer, a researcher at Boston University School of Public Health, is searching for 600 lesbian and bisexual women to participate in her research on "Variations in Health Needs of Breast Cancer Survivors Study." Ulrike has partnered for the second time with the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation's Army of Women to help recruit women who have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, those who have metastatic disease, those with recurrent breast cancer, women with second cancers and women who are undergoing cancer treatment currently. These women will be asked to take part in a phone interview to assess their well-being and quality of care.
"This study is looking at breast cancer and its treatment, support that is available to women with breast cancer, how they perceive their health right now, and how they have been dealing with cancer," Boehmer said.
Boehmer's study is the result of two previous studies that turned up inconsistencies. "One of our previous studies compared sexual minority women and heterosexual women with breast cancer, who had early breast cancer, were without recurrence, and were no longer undergoing cancer treatments. We found that there were no differences by sexual orientation in women's well-being. This is good news.
"Thereafter, we did another study of cancer survivors. This time the study was not restricted to breast cancer or to a certain stage or time since diagnosis. In this study, we found that lesbians with cancer had a significantly greater likelihood to self-report their health as fair or poor compared to heterosexual women with cancer. So this is a contradiction to our earlier study. This is why we want to learn now, whether specific groups of sexual minority breast cancer survivors have worse well-being than heterosexual women with breast cancer."
The responses provided by non-heterosexual women will later be compared to responses provided by heterosexual women to determine if there is a difference in well-being and quality of care. If significant differences are found, this information will then be used to help develop programs or services for the women to help increase their well-being and survivor outcomes.
Dr. Susan Love created the Army of Women ( AoW ) in 2008 in order to help breast cancer researchers like Ulrike locate women for their studies. Since it's founding, the AoW has recruited 370,000 women, 55,000 of whom have participated in at least one breast cancer study. Many of the women who have participated in the research do not or have not had breast cancer.
Love said that non-heterosexual women have been largely ignored in breast-cancer studies, which is why research like Boehmer's is especially important.
In fact, due to a dearth in research on sexual-minority groups, Love's foundation is launching the "Health of Women Study" in June that will include questions specifically targeting sexual minority women and transgender individuals, both male-to-female and female-to-male.
"We will be doing an online cohort study, where we are going to track women who agree to do this over time, both with or without breast cancer. You'll fill out an online questionnaire that will take about 15 to 20 minutes every two or three months and that data will then be tracked and dumped together to look at a lot of different questions. We've been working to set up some specific questions for the gay and lesbian community and particularly for the transgender community. I am very interested in trying to figure out if breast cancer is a higher risk or not in both groups of transgender people."
Love said the transgender community has the potential to provide a lot of answers to the overall understanding of breast cancer. She noted, "In female-to-male transgender people, they don't actually remove all of their breast tissue usually when they have surgery because it's more of a cosmetic operation than a cancer prevention operation, and they are taking hormones too. They are taking androgens, which we know increase breast cancer. So are they at higher risk? Or, are they at lower risk because they had surgery?"
Regarding male-to-female individuals, Love wondered how age and hormones might affect someone's risk for developing cancer and if there are correlations.
"I got really interested in it when a transgender woman asked me if she needed to get mammograms and I said I have no idea and I looked things up and I couldn't find anything," she said. "In fact, what you ended up with is people say well you've got breasts and you're taking hormones you better have mammograms, well that may not be true. It's a completely unanswered question."
Love said there is such a breadth of variety and variables in the trans community, which might really offer a lot of insight into breast cancer.
To find out more about Dr. Boehmer's study and to sign-up, call 866-687-8814 or email firstname.lastname@example.org . To register with the Army of Women, visit www.armyofwomen.org/getinvolved.