Transgender women face a greater risk of breast cancer because of the hormones they take, shows study
- Experts investigated rates of breast cancer in 3,500 transgender people
- Adults who suffer gender dysphoria are offered hormone therapy
- Transgender women take oestrogen, which reduces their body hair
Transgender women increase their risk of getting breast cancer by taking hormones, research suggests.
People who were born male but take oestrogen to transition to a women are more likely to get breast cancer than men.
Meanwhile, transgender men lower their risk of breast cancer by taking testosterone, a study has revealed.
The research follows previous studies which have shown that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases the risk of breast cancer in menopausal women.
People who were born male but take oestrogen to transition to a women are more likely to get breast cancer than men (stock)
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, suggested hormone treatment could similarly increase risk of breast cancer among transgender women.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with over 55,000 women and 400 men diagnosed each year.
Scientists at the University Medical Centre in Amsterdam investigated rates of breast cancer in nearly 3,500 transgender people receiving hormone treatment compared with the general Dutch population.
Of the 2,260 transgender women they looked at, 15 were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer – a higher rate than the general male population.
DOES HORMONE THERAPY WHEN TRANSITIONING AFFECT FERTILITY?
Transgender people who were born female and are transitioning to have more masculine characteristics may want to consider freezing their eggs before starting testosterone treatment.
Testosterone suppresses fertility and can leave people completely infertile over time. The hormone does this by stopping eggs being released from the ovaries.
Those who would like to one day have biological children should consider freezing their eggs before starting testosterone treatment or having surgery.
Genital reconstruction surgery – such as the removal of the ovaries, womb or fallopian tubes – may prevent them having biological children unless they use a surrogate.
In 1,229 transgender men, there were four cases of invasive breast cancer – a lower rate than among the general female population.
The authors concluded: ‘The absolute overall risk of breast cancer in transgender people remains low and therefore it seems sufficient for transgender people using hormone treatment to follow screening guidelines as for cisgender people.’
Research suggests a link between HRT and breast cancer.
The most recent figures show women aged 50 to 59 have a 23 in 1,000 chance of getting breast cancer, but for those taking combined HRT, there’s a 28 in 1,000 chance.
Adults who suffer gender dysphoria – a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity – are offered hormone therapy.
Transgender women who were born male take oestrogen, which reduces their body hair and causes breasts to grow.
Transgender men take testosterone which causes them to build muscle and have more body and facial hair.
WHAT IS BREAST CANCER, HOW MANY PEOPLE DOES IT STRIKE AND WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. Each year in the UK there are more than 55,000 new cases, and the disease claims the lives of 11,500 women. In the US, it strikes 266,000 each year and kills 40,000. But what causes it and how can it be treated?
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer develops from a cancerous cell which develops in the lining of a duct or lobule in one of the breasts.
When the breast cancer has spread into surrounding breast tissue it is called an ‘invasive’ breast cancer. Some people are diagnosed with ‘carcinoma in situ’, where no cancer cells have grown beyond the duct or lobule.
Most cases develop in women over the age of 50 but younger women are sometimes affected. Breast cancer can develop in men though this is rare.
The cancerous cells are graded from stage one, which means a slow growth, up to stage four, which is the most aggressive.
What causes breast cancer?
A cancerous tumour starts from one abnormal cell. The exact reason why a cell becomes cancerous is unclear. It is thought that something damages or alters certain genes in the cell. This makes the cell abnormal and multiply ‘out of control’.
Although breast cancer can develop for no apparent reason, there are some risk factors that can increase the chance of developing breast cancer, such as genetics.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
The usual first symptom is a painless lump in the breast, although most breast lumps are not cancerous and are fluid filled cysts, which are benign.
The first place that breast cancer usually spreads to is the lymph nodes in the armpit. If this occurs you will develop a swelling or lump in an armpit.
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
- Initial assessment: A doctor examines the breasts and armpits. They may do tests such as a mammography, a special x-ray of the breast tissue which can indicate the possibility of tumours.
- Biopsy: A biopsy is when a small sample of tissue is removed from a part of the body. The sample is then examined under the microscope to look for abnormal cells. The sample can confirm or rule out cancer.
If you are confirmed to have breast cancer, further tests may be needed to assess if it has spread. For example, blood tests, an ultrasound scan of the liver or a chest x-ray.
How is breast cancer treated?
Treatment options which may be considered include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone treatment. Often a combination of two or more of these treatments are used.
- Surgery: Breast-conserving surgery or the removal of the affected breast depending on the size of the tumour.
- Radiotherapy: A treatment which uses high energy beams of radiation focussed on cancerous tissue. This kills cancer cells, or stops cancer cells from multiplying. It is mainly used in addition to surgery.
- Chemotherapy: A treatment of cancer by using anti-cancer drugs which kill cancer cells, or stop them from multiplying
- Hormone treatments: Some types of breast cancer are affected by the ‘female’ hormone oestrogen, which can stimulate the cancer cells to divide and multiply. Treatments which reduce the level of these hormones, or prevent them from working, are commonly used in people with breast cancer.
How successful is treatment?
The outlook is best in those who are diagnosed when the cancer is still small, and has not spread. Surgical removal of a tumour in an early stage may then give a good chance of cure.
The routine mammography offered to women between the ages of 50 and 70 mean more breast cancers are being diagnosed and treated at an early stage.
For more information visit breastcancercare.org.uk or www.cancerhelp.org.uk
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