Lesbian ‘lifestyle’ creates higher risk of breast cancer: Important info lost in sea of insensitive language

Posted on 12 Oct 2011 at 2:14pm

An article published today on the website “Medical News Today” explains that research indicates lesbians and bisexual women may be at a higher risk of dying of breast cancer, listing a number of factors that could lead to the increase in risk.

The No. 1 reason is that lesbians and bisexuals (spelled “bi-sexual”) women tend not to see a doctor as often, not to get routine mammograms and not to be as open and up front in talking to their doctor about their health. The article quotes Liz Margolies, executive director of the National LGBT Cancer Network, who says that lesbians and bisexual women tend not to seek medical treatment and get routine health checkups because the healthcare system is insensitive to, and sometimes even hostile to, lesbians and bisexual women.

And the MNT article makes that blatantly obvious, just in the way it is written. For example, the article — written by Rupert Shepherd, who I am willing to bet is a straight man — starts off this way: “Whilst in no way a condemnation of lifestyle choices, new research is showing that Lesbian and Bi-sexual women tend to engage in more high risk behaviors that can lead to them being more at risk from breast cancer.”

Can you guess what irritated me right away? And that’s not the only time it happens in the article. Shepherd uses the terms “lifestyle” and “sexual preference” throughout.

To be honest, the article contains a lot of very important and useful information. For instance, according to the American Cancer Society, 230,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and each year, an estimated 40,000 women die of breast cancer. And it includes information on things that can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer — like smoking, alcohol use, obesity and not getting pregnant before age 30.

(According to the article, studies show that lesbians and bisexual women tend to smoke more, drink more, weigh more and, believe it or not, get pregnant less than straight women. So lesbians and bisexual women tend to have more risk factors for breast cancer.)

Unfortunately all that important and helpful information tends to get lost in the sea of Shepherd’s poor choices when it comes to language. And that’s really too bad.

Of course, there are options. And the National LGBT Cancer Network website looks like a really good one. So if you or someone you love has cancer or is at risk for cancer, check out this website instead. You can “create a personal cancer risk report,” “find local LGBT-friendly screening facilities,” “sign up for electronic screening reminders” and more. And on this site, if you see the word “lifestyle,” I bet it is referring to things like whether you smoke or drink, not whether or not you are LGBT. And I’m also willing to bet that the National LGBT Cancer Network isn’t going to confuse “sexual preference” with “sexual orientation,” either.

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