More than Pink: Addressing Breast Cancer in LBTQI People

If there’s one message that’s been repeated incessantly by breast cancer awareness campaigns, it’s that “early detection is key.” As with most cancers, and disease in general, the rule applies that the sooner you can diagnose and treat it, the more likely you are to survive. However, if early detection is critical to ending the breast cancer epidemic, there’s a flaw with this messaging: what if someone doesn’t have the tools to detect it early? Early detection implies that the power is in patients’ hands and all we have to do is be on top of self-exams and get regular mammograms, right?

Queer, bisexual and lesbian women (and let me be clear that when I say women, I mean all women: trans and cis) are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured, so getting to a doctor for a mammogram referral, or even a breast/chest exam isn’t always easy. Uninsured folks are more likely to seek medical care only in cases of emergency. Regular screenings often get bypassed for this reason.

Even if insured, LGBTQI folks are likely to experience discrimination in healthcare settings. And we know transgender folks in particular experience a lot of trauma as a result of the medical industrial complex. Race and class compound these disparities even further.

At Howard Brown, women can access a wide range of social and mental health services in a safe and supportive environment, including services for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. Call 773.388.1600 to make your appointment today!

We should not assume that all queer people are absorbing the public health messaging around early detection. If anyone loves pink more than I do, I’d like to meet them, but the truth is that many LGBTQI people have a bad history with the color. How many times have men been called “sissy” for wearing pink? How many butch lesbians and masculine non-binary folks were forced to wear pink dresses as kids when really all they wanted to wear was their brother’s superhero t-shirts? As a community, we’re divided over our love/hate of all things feminine and “girly,” but it’s undeniable that pink is the official color of breast cancer awareness.

If a provider isn’t familiar with trans health, they may not suggest self-exams for everyone. When doctors focus on body parts and not gender identity, they know to screen anyone with breast tissue. We do know there’s a link between hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and breast cancer, based on studies with post-menopausal cisgender women, and further research is needed to investigate the estrogen-related risk of breast cancer in trans women on HRT.

This topic is a great reminder of why Howard Brown Health exists in the first place. LGBTQI-affirming medical care can literally save lives. Just as gay cisgender men needed Howard Brown to survive the AIDS epidemic in the 80’s and 90’s, today the rest of us need LBTQ-affirming experts when it comes to surviving breast cancer.

Amy Nicole Miller, Manager of Women’s Health Services

We provide holistic services for all of your healthcare needs, including full gynecological care to routine health screenings and treatment for acute and chronic illnesses. Learn more about women’s health services at

Help Howard Brown better serve women (trans and cis) and gender non-binary Chicagoans! You can help provide vital information on health care needs and strengths for trans and cis women and gender non-binary people in the Chicago. Take the #ChicagoHealthLooksLike survey here.


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