According to the American Cancer Society, the best defense against cancer is prevention and early detection. Lesbians, as a group, may have higher risks for certain types of cancer based on higher rates of some specific risk factors. In addition, they experience barriers to care that could impede early detection.
There are a few key factors that may increase risk for various cancers. Survey research and clinical experience suggest that these risk factors may be more common among women who partner with women. Lesbians are more likely to smoke, drink more alcohol, and be overweight, which increase the risk of cancer. They are less likely to use oral contraceptives, bear children (nulliparity) or breast feed, and to go to the doctor regularly, which can decrease the risk of cancer. Lesbians and bisexual women are also significantly more likely than heterosexual women to have never had a mammogram and to eat fewer fruits and vegetables daily.
Because lesbians do not usually need contraceptives, they tend to wait longer between Pap smears and general gynecological exams. By not presenting for regular Pap tests, individuals may miss the opportunity to receive other preventive care.
Lesbian women should follow screening guidelines including the monthly breast self exam (BSE), regular clinical breast exams, and age appropriate mammography screening. For more information about different types of cancer and specific cancer screening recommendations, please use the navigation menu to the left and read on.