All women face certain health risks including heart disease and cancer. However, LBT women, as well as women who have sex with women, have some specific health concerns and are at a higher risk for cancer than other women. And mMany LBT women don’t know it.
While there is no single definition of the “LBT community” — it is a diverse and multidimensional group of people with unique identities and experiences, with variations ofby race/ethnicity, income, and other characteristics — LBT women typically have a common experience of often being stigmatized due to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
In addition to the higher rates of illness and health challenges, some LBT individuals are more likely to experience challenges obtaining care. Barriers include gaps in coverage, cost-related hurdles, and poor treatment and fear of discrimination from health care providers. Studies have found that lesbian, transgender, and bisexualLBT women get less routine health care than other women, including breast, cervical, and colon cancer screening tests.
If you’re relatively young and in good health, you may think this article isn’t about you. But you couldn’t be more wrong.
Nan Van Dan Bergh, Ph.D., is a cancer survivor and founder of Area Resource and Referral Organization for Women (ARROW.). She also started the Rainbow Survivor Network to offer support towith LBT women with cancer.
“We surveyed more than one thousand lesbian and bisexual women,” says said Dr. Van Dan Bergh. “The most potent predictor for being at high risk for cancer and other serious health problems was age. It was young women, under age 30 who had the highest risk. They were less likely to have a Pap test, a clinical breast exam or a primary care physician. Their smoking rate was 30 percent—that’s twice as high as the United States’ rate of smoking among females.”
Tobacco use is only one of the risk factors for LBT women that increase their chances of getting a chronic illness or disease. Obesity rates and alcohol consumption are higher among lesbian and bisexual women compared to heterosexual women. Transgender women, particularly transgender women of color, are also at high risk of HIV. Studies have found that more than one in four (28 percent%) are HIV positive, and a majority are unaware that they are infected.
Transgender people are also particularly vulnerable when it comes to health care, because of distinct health requirements. According to the medical journal “The Lancet,” , transgender men and women remain susceptible to cancers of reproductive organs that are no longer in alignment with their gender. For example, trans women might not recognize the persisting risk of prostate cancer. Those who have undergone sex reassignment surgery might be unaware of the continuing possibility of reproductive cancers due to residual tissue that remains after surgery. This may also be complicated by transgender people opting out of cancer screening and examinations because of emotional or physical distress associated with the discordance between their gender and their reproductive organs.
Although most risks for many LBT women are influenced by many factors beyond sexual orientation and practices, including age, family history, and lifestyle, it’s important to understand common health issues and steps you can take to stay healthy.
Finding a competent, compassionate doctor and having regular cancer screenings is the first step in maintaining your health. There are many resources available to LBT women to help enhance their health. HealthLink is one of them.
HealthLink is a program of CenterLink. It is made up of a community-driven network of experts working to enhance LGBT health by reducing tobacco, cancer, and other health disparities. It links people and information to promote healthy lifestyle practices. It works to reduce LGBT cancer and tobacco disparities. HealthLink also brings together departments of health, health care system providers, and LGBT community centers to tailor health promotional materials, provide culturally competent care, and engage LGBT communities. You can find out more at www.lgbthealthlink.org.
These days, the Rainbow Survivors Network is run by SunServe in Wilton Manors. “The concept of the network is to connect LBT women who have been newly diagnosed with cancer with other LBT women who are cancer survivors. It is set up as a ‘“buddy’” program, and we have been successful at developing lifetime friendships between women who can share experiences and hope,” said Emily Cohen, SunServe Director of Women’s Service. “The ‘buddy’ would be available for the woman who is newly diagnosed to go to doctors’ appointments, help pick up medications, or just sit on their couch and talk all night long. It really is about creating a sisterhood.”
Having access to resources is great, but there is no substitute for a woman knowing her own body and the risk factors for cancer. When should you have your first mammogram or Pap test? Answers to these questions and other important health issues will be addressed on Saturday, Sept.ember 9, 2017 from 5-8 p.m.pm – 8pm at the Pride Center at Equality Park. The Pride Center is located at 2040 North Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors. The event is called “‘Amping up Women’s Health.”’
“This is an event where women can come and get current information,” said Van Dan Bergh. “We will have information about resources and help for all women. There will be lots of entertainment. But the focus is on reducing cancer risk, especially those at high-risk, including younger women.”
The Pride Center website also includes a link to a South Florida LBT health provider directory. It can be found at http://www.lbthealth.org/directory-of-providers/.