One of the several shortcomings of breast cancer awareness and pinkwashing, discounting fetishization and objectification, is that it routinely excludes men and trans* individuals from “awareness” discourse. While it’s considered incredibly rare, males are still susceptible to breast cancer and account for 1% of cases per year, though their likelihood of developing the disease is about one in one-thousand during their lifetime.
Breast cancer is formed from abnormal cell growth in the breast tissue. As women develop, their breast tissue undergoes complex changes that allow them to produce milk. Since men have non-functioning breast tissue and don’t experience the rapid growth process, the cells are less likely to produce cancerous mutations.
Of course, we’re not marketing shirts that say, “Save the Moobs,” and in the overarching scheme of things, it makes logistical sense that men and individuals who identify as men are not the target demographic for breast cancer awareness, but the adverse effect is that they’re wholly uninformed about the potential threat to their own bodies. They’re not taught to perform regular self-checks or know what warning signs to watch for, and certainly not a priority for screening and testing. In the case for trans* individuals, they face more complex problems and discrimination at the hands of the health care system.
Take, for example, the case of Jennifer Blair. Last spring, Blair noticed a rapid growth on the side of her chest. Since she had limited income and no health insurance, she opted for a local women’s health program with free mammograms funded by Planned Parenthood. Unfortunately, Blair was turned away because she was born a male and had gender reassignment surgery a decade prior. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention required patients to be “genetically female” in order to qualify for the free service. She ended up paying for the costs out of pocket.
Not only are trans* people more likely to be harassed or denied care, but many health insurance carriers “explicitly bars paying for cross-gender medications or care” after sex-reassignment surgeries. So, once a person has undergone sex-reassignment surgery, insurance no longer wants to cover expenses pertaining to sex the patient was before. That means all the routine care individuals need, such as prostate exams and pap smears, aren’t covered.
It’s an unsettling prospect for trans* individuals, considering the medical issues many face as a result of hormone therapy or surgery. In Blair’sparticular case, exposure to elevated amounts of estrogen put her at a higher risk for breast cancer and deadly blood clots. While it’s still uncommon for trans* individuals to develop the disease, the the American Cancer society speculates the cases are largely underreported.
It’s a fair assessment to say breast cancer is mostly observed as a sex-specific disease, with a small footnote in the margins for uncommon exceptions. As such, it’s treatment and assessment are subject to regulations put in place by insurance companies and government agencies. Unfortunately, this system simply does not work ubiquitously.
By Amanda Duncil, Blog Editor