Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s Health: Breast Cancer and Gynecological Risk Factors

December 2014 | Felixia Barias

Information on breast cancer rates amongst lesbians and bisexual women have been inadequate and inconsistent. Only a handful of studies have specifically addressed lesbian cancer risks and experiences and their findings have been contradictory.

Some researchers such as Cochran, Mays, Bowen et al. (2001) have speculated that lesbians may have an increased risk for developing breast cancer. Researchers have found that lesbians (between the ages of 18 and 75) were more than likely than women overall to have several behavior risk factors for breast cancer and gynecological cancer. 

In 2001, Rosenburg’s study analyzed various questionnaire responses from surveys conducted from 1987 and 1996, in which 11, 876 were involved in the study. These responses were compared to the national average of women. The study indicated that more than 12% of lesbians reported to having history of problems with alcohol. Lesbians were also more likely than average to use tobacco (21% vs. 16%) and to have used tobacco in the past. They were also less likely to use birth control pills. In addition, lesbians overall were less likely to be covered by health insurance (86% vs. 93%), which also meant they were less likely to have undergone cancer screenings. Only 73% reported having recent pelvic examinations, compared to the standard estimate of 87% for women nationally, and lesbians in their 40s were less likely than women overall ever to have had a mammogram (Rosenburg, 2001).

The most cited risk factors in the research on lesbians and breast cancer and gynecological risk are:

  • Cigarette smoking - studies have indicated that lesbians smoke cigarettes at a drastically greater rate than of heterosexual women.

  • Alcohol use- Some investigations have stated higher frequencies of heavy drinking among lesbians than heterosexual women.

  • Obesity- Some research report that lesbians are more likely to be overweight or have a BMI higher than 25.

  • Pregnancy- Lesbians are less likely to have biological children before the age of 30. (Early pregnancy and the use of birth control pills are known to decrease risk of breast cancer.)


Cochran, S. D., Mays, V. M., Bowen, D., Gage, S., & et al (2001). Cancer-related risk indicators and preventive screening behaviors among lesbians and bisexual women. American Journal of Public Health, 91(4), 591-7. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/215110534?accountid=25355

Rosenberg, J. (2001). Lesbians are more likely than U.S. women overall to have risk factorS for gynecologic and breast cancer. Family Planning Perspectives, 33(4), 183-184. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224555251?accountid=25355


Cancer Support Community

Mautner Project, The National Lesbian Health Organization

The National Coalition for LGBT Health

The Annie Appleseed Project

Young Survival Coalition

Fertile Hope

I'm Too Young for This

Living Beyond Breast Cancer


Colorectal Cancer Coalition

Breast Cancer Alliance

Lymphoma Research Foundation


Long Island Lesbian Cancer Initiative

Lesbian Cancer Initiative (New York, NY)

New York City Lesbian Cancer Support Consortium (New York, NY)

Lesbian Cancer Support Services (Denver, CO)

Wingspan—Lesbian Cancer Health Project (Southern AZ)

The Atlanta Lesbian Health Initiative

Fenway Community Health (Boston, MA)

The Hambleton Project (Portland, OR)

Lesbian Community Cancer Project (Chicago, IL)

Women's Cancer Resource Center (Oakland, CA)

 For additional information on cancer-related topics and other national resources for LGBT community, please visit the National LGBT Cancer Network.  


Felixia Barias is a graduate student working on getting a Master’s in Gerontology (2014).  She currently interns at the LA LGBT Center of Los Angeles in the Senior Services department.  As an intern, Barias’ responsibility is filling in as a case manager when needed to provide referrals to clients.  She is interested in helping individuals seek out services and resources through the LA LGBT Center. As she continues her time at the Center, her interest in housing has sparked especially for those that are homeless and low-income.