Comparing Breast Cancer Experiences and Quality of Life between Lesbian and Heterosexual Women

ABSTRACT

Background: While breast cancer among women in general has been well studied, little is known about breast cancer in sexual minority women (SMW). Aside from being at an increased risk for development of, and mortality from, breast cancer compared to their heterosexual counterparts, there is a growing collection of literature that suggests that SMW experience breast cancer differently to heterosexual women.

Methods: Qualitative study of both straight and lesbian women with a diagnosis of breast cancer. Focus groups were conducted to assess straight and SMW experiences pertaining to perceived barriers, resources/support from partners as well as attitudes pertaining to breast reconstruction.

Results: A sample of 15 participants (10 straight and 5 lesbian women) were included in the present study. Focus group themes focused on support, wishes for support, satisfaction with inclusion of partner, fear, perceived discrimination, quality of life, body image, treatment delay, financial concern, frustration with the system, reconstruction, access to information, and attitudes towards cancer diagnosis. A majority of women in both groups chose to undergo breast reconstruction.

Conclusion: In our study, SMW experienced their breast cancer treatment through a uniquely supportive and positive lens, often with higher relationship satisfaction and better self-image when compared to straight women.