Breast cancer is a health concern for both transgender men and transgender women, regardless of whether they have undergone a physical transition. Breast self-exams and mammograms, as well as regular checkups, are essential for early detection, especially if one has a family history of breast cancer.
Hormone therapy plays a significant role in transitioning from one gender to another. For example, estrogens (female sex hormones) can help individuals who are born male transition to female. And androgens, (male sex hormones like testosterone), assist in female to male transitions.
However, both estrogens and androgens are associated with breast cancer risk.
Most types of breast cancer are fueled by estrogen. This means that estrogen helps tumors grow and spread. For this reason, people who take estrogens for a female transition can be at higher risk for breast cancer.
The risk is present for people taking testosterone as part of a female-to-male transition, too. Testosterone does promote the development of male characteristics. But the body converts excess amounts of testosterone into estrogen, thus raising one’s risk for breast cancer.
Can transgender people still get breast cancer even if they don’t have breasts? The answer is yes.
People transitioning from female to male often decide to have their breasts surgically removed as part of the chest reconstruction process. But even after this process is complete, there is still breast muscle tissue left in the chest. Original tissue may still be in the nipple area as well. These areas can develop breast cancer.
It’s also important to note that breast cancer does not affect women only. It’s less common, but men can get breast cancer, too. Like transmen, male-to-female transgender individuals still have original breast tissue and should still be screened, even if they have breast implants.
If you are concerned about breast health, be sure to talk to a healthcare provider. He or she can tell you more about your screening options and teach you how to do breast self-exams at home.
It's important to feel comfortable with your healthcare provider. To find a medical professional with experience and training related to transgender concerns, you might try asking others in your local transgender community for a recommendation.