Increased risk of breast cancer in transgender women
New research suggests that transgender women (people assigned male sex at birth who identify as women) undergoing hormone treatment have an increased risk of breast cancer compared to cisgender men (people assigned male at birth who identify as men).
According to a study carried out by researchers from the University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, trans women are around 47 times more likely to develop breast cancer than cis men.
Over the course of the study, 15 cases of invasive breast cancer (breast cancer that has the potential to spread to other areas of the body) were detected in 2,260 transgender women that the researchers were following. In cisgender men, over the same period of time, only 0.32 cases of breast cancer would be expected to be detected.
This is why scientists suggest transgender women to be 47 times more likely to develop breast cancer, however 15 out of 2,260 still represents a very small number of cases.
The study also showed that trans men have a lower breast cancer risk than cis women.
Dr Amar Ahmad, Cancer Research UK’s principal statistician, said that while this might sound like a huge increase, it’s important to remember that breast cancer in cis men is rare:
This means a small increase in the number of breast cancer cases diagnosed in trans women, as found in this study, is enough to give a large increase in breast cancer risk compared to cis men.
Are you transgender and have questions about breast cancer?
Find out more about:
- Breast screening
- Being breast aware
- What to expect at a clinic appointment
- Hormone therapy
- Worried about breast cancer?
Routine breast screening can pick up breast cancer before there are any signs or symptoms. It uses a test called a mammogram (a breast x-ray) to look for cancer that may be too small to see or feel. The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the more effective treatment is likely to be.
Whether you are a trans woman, trans man or non-binary, it is important to remain breast aware and know what the signs and symptoms of breast cancer are.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:
- a change in size or shape
- a lump or area that feels thicker than the rest of the breast
- a change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling (like the skin of an orange)
- redness or rash on the skin and/or around the nipple
- your nipple has become inverted (pulled in) or looks different (for example changed its position or shape)
- liquid (sometimes called discharge) that comes from the nipple without squeezing
- constant pain in your breast or your armpit
- a swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone.
If you notice a change, even if you feel well, it’s important to visit your GP.
If you have gone to your GP with a symptom you are worried about you may be referred to a breast clinic. GPs follow guidance when deciding whether or not to refer you. The guidance outlines how quickly a person should be seen depending on their symptoms.
If you’ve been recalled to a breast clinic after having a routine mammogram as part of a national breast screening programme, you should receive a letter within two weeks of your mammogram saying when your breast clinic appointment will be.
The vast majority of people who are seen at a breast clinic will not have breast cancer. However, it is still important to attend your appointment so you can be fully assessed.
At your appointment you will usually have a breast examination, followed by one or more of the following tests:
You may also have questions around long-term hormone therapy. If you have any concerns, speak to your GP. The NHS has produced a guide to hormone therapy for trans people with information about how hormone therapy works, and where you can seek support.
If you have any concerns about breast cancer, you can speak to our experts on our free Helpline.
Breast Cancer Care Helpline: 0808 800 6000
If you’re worried about attending a breast clinic, speaking to your GP, or experiencing discrimination, the following organisations may be able to offer you support:
Support directory that can be filtered by service and region
TranzWiki, by the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES)
Find a local support group
UK Trans Info
Advice on access to healthcare, legal issues, and emotional support