Research has revealed our LGBTQ communities are at a higher risk of breast cancer. As a population, we’re screening less, but also drinking and smoking more which are risk factors. This increases the chances of breast cancer, but we can do something about it. Our United Front is Can We’s conversation on breast cancer, touching on the touchy subject, so that, together, we can stay healthy.
You might notice we say ‘breast’ when referring to ‘breast cancer’. Everyone (regardless of gender) has breast tissue. Breast cancer refers to cancer in this tissue. At ACON, when we say ‘breast’ we’re doing so in a non-gendered medical sense rather.
We understand some find ‘breast’ a gendered word. Our work in breast screening strives to be inclusive, educating everyone in our LGBTQ communities about cancer of the breast tissue and their screening options.
Join Our United Front
Our community is strong, resilient and full of support. Our United Front was formed so we can band together and beat breast cancer, literally. Hear the beat of the drum circle or watch our dykes on bikes roll up for a breast screen in style, check out our video and join Our United Front against breast cancer today.
About breast cancer and screening
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is an abnormal growth of cells in breast tissue. In its early stages, there are often no symptoms, which is why screening is so important. As the cells grow, they can spread to other parts of the body. Regular screening (every two years) is essential for detecting these cells early, greatly improving treatment options and outcomes.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting cis women in Australia with 1 in 7 being diagnosed in their lifetime.* Men can get breast cancer too, though much less common. The risk for cis men is 1 in 651. There is currently no data on trans and gender diverse people.
what is breast screening?
The BreastScreen Australia Program provides free regular breast screening to eligible people.
A breast screen (also called a ‘mammogram’) is an x-ray of breast tissue, capable of picking up cancers as small as a grain of rice. This means changes can be detected early, before they’re seen or felt. That’s why regular screening saves, with early detection meaning less invasive treatment and higher survival rates. A screening appointment only takes around 20 minutes.
BreastScreen provides FREE screening every two years for cis and trans women aged 40+ who have a Medicare card. If you’re aged 50-74 you’ll receive an invitation in the mail to screen every two years as this is the target screening age based on age-related risk. If you’re 40 – 49 or 75+ you can still screen for free, but you won’t receive invitations in the mail.
Who is most at risk of breast cancer and Who needs to screen?
Cis women, particularly those aged 50+ are the most at risk of breast cancer, with 1 in 7 in NSW being diagnosed in their lifetime. While everyone, regardless of their gender, has breast tissue, the risk of breast cancer for cis men is low. That’s why there isn’t a National Breast Cancer Screening Program for cis men. If you’re concerned, have a chat with your doctor.
It is recommended that is women and trans women who have been on hormones (estrogen) for more than 5 years, aged 50-74, screen every two years.
AFAB trans folk with breasts who have not had top surgery should be screening every two years. If you have had top surgery, talk to your doctor about your personal risk and screening options. We’ve got more info for trans and gender diverse people below.
Reducing the drink, stopping the ciggies and moving the body help reduce our risk of breast cancer. But there are some risk factors we can’t change, which is why screening is so important. These include age, gender, genetic mutations, and family history of breast or ovarian cancer (though 90% of those diagnosed don’t have a family history of breast cancer). Screening can pick up the presence of cancers in early stages, before they’re seen or felt.
Early detection = less invasive treatments and much better outcomes. Screening saves lives.
There is minimal research and data relating to breast cancer risk and experience among trans and gender diverse people. Because of this, a lot of the info you’ll find here is based on data on cis women. We have, however, put together answers to key questions for trans and gender diverse people.
What if I’ve been on feminising hormones for over 5 years?
Research suggests long-term use of hormones such as estrogen/progesterone increases the risk of developing breast cancer. If you’re aged 50-74 and been on feminising hormones for 5+ years, you need to screen every two years.
What if I’m not on feminising hormones, or have been for less than 5 years?
For trans women and trans femme folk aged 50-74 not on hormones or have been for less than 5 years, the current guidelines don’t recommend regular mammograms.
What if I’m masc-presenting?
If you’re masc-presenting we recommend talking to your doctor about screening elsewhere. BreastScreen NSW is a service for women (cis and trans). If you’re trans masc and aged 50+, we recommend finding a gender-affirming doctor who understands you, so you can discuss your personal risk of breast cancer and screening options.
If you were presumed female at birth and have not had top surgery, you need to screen every two years, regardless of your gender identity.
If you were presumed female at birth and have had top surgery you’re still at some risk of breast cancer, though your risk is reduced due to less breast tissue being present. You may still need to screen regularly depending on the amount of tissue remaining and your personal risk factors. Even though this can be difficult, we ask that you talk to your doctor about this. They can advise on your personal risk factors such as amount of chest tissue remaining and any family history of breast or ovarian cancer, and the best screening options for you. If you need to find a gender-affirming doctor, click here.
Who receives invitations to screen?
BreastScreen NSW uses Medicare details to send out screening invitations to those registered as ‘female’ aged 50-74. You can contact BreastScreen NSW on 13 20 50 if you would like to stop receiving invitations.
What if I no longer need to receive screening invitations?
You can contact BreastScreen NSW on 13 20 50 if you would like to stop receiving invitations.
What if I’m not registered as ‘female’ with Medicare?
You will not automatically receive your invitation to be screened. So, if you’re aged 50-74 and have been on feminising hormones for 5+ years, you’ll need to be proactive in booking your mammogram with BreastScreen NSW.
At Can We, we understand that it’s not always easy to speak up and ask for what we need when it comes to being treated the way we’d like to be treated by healthcare professionals. TransHub have created a letter template that you can bring to your health provider so you don’t have to have the difficult conversations.
BreastScreen NSW is a service for women (cis and trans). If you are AFAB trans masc or non-binary we recommend talking to your GP about your personal risk and screening options. Click the link below to view TransHub’s Gender Affirming Doctor List.