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Other Cancers

There is some evidence, although controversial, that lesbians smoke more and use more alcohol than heterosexual women[5] [11] [15]. Data from the Women’s Health Initiative[17] showed that lesbian women had a higher BMI, consumed more alcohol and smoked more than their heterosexual counterparts. Lesbians are also less likely to have a pregnancy, or to have a pregnancy later in life, and less likely to use the oral contraceptive pill[11] [17].

There is no epidemiological data to show that lesbians are at an increased risk of breast or other cancers, but based on the above information on risk factors, some inferences can be made. Obesity, alcohol use, nulliparity or pregnancy after age 30, are all risk factors for breast cancer. Nulliparity and a decreased use of oral contraceptive pills are risk factors for ovarian cancer. Nulliparity and obesity are also risk factors for endometrial cancer[13] [16] [11] [7].


 breast cancer

 ovarian cancer

 endometrial cancer

lung cancer

heart disease

 tobacco use






 alcohol use




 high BMI





 nulliparity or pregnancy after 30




decreased use of OCPs



Smoking is the major risk factor for lung cancer, so it follows that if lesbian women smoke more than heterosexual women, they will be at an increased risk for lung cancer.

Another risk factor that lesbian women have for developing cancer is that they are less likely to be screened than heterosexual women. Canadian lesbians are less likely to receive Pap smears, mammograms and breast exams than their heterosexual counterparts. In addition, advice about screening is often given to women during contraceptive counseling which automatically renders lesbian women invisible when it comes to screening[19].


5. Peterkin A, Risdon C. Caring for Lesbian and Gay People: A Clinical Guide. 2003. University of Toronto Press Incorporated. Toronto, Ontario.

7. Rosenfeld, JA, Ed. Handbook of Women's Health. New York, NY. Cambridge University Press; 2001.

11. Solarz, AL Ed. Lesbian Health: Current Assessment and Directions for the Future. Washington DC. National Academy Press; 1999.

13. Anonymous [Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association]. Health care needs of gay men and lesbians in the United States. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1996;275(17):1354-1359.

15. Hudspith M. Caring for Lesbian Health: A Resource for Canadian Health Care Providers, Policy Makers and Planners, Revised Edition. 2001. Health Canada. Accessed October 24, 2003.

16. Lee R. Health care problems of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender patients. Western Journal of Medicine. 2000;172:403-408.

17. Valanis BG, Bowen DJ, Bassfort T, Whitlock E, Charney P, Carter RA. Sexual orientation and health: comparisons in the women's health initiative sample. Archives of Family Medicine. 2000;9(9):843-53.

19. Davis V, Christilaw JE, Edwards C, Francoeur D, Grant LJ, Parish B, Saraf-Dhar R, Steben M. SOGC Clinical Practice Guidelines. Policy Statement No. 87. Lesbian Health Guidelines. Journal of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada. 2000;22(3):202-205. Accessed on July 18, 2003.

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