Cape Town - Transgender men and women are also at risk of breast cancer the Global Fund Programme at Right to Care has warned.

The non-profit organisation that supports and delivers prevention, care, and treatment services for HIV and TB highlighted the concern during national breast cancer awareness month.

The programme wants to reach out to “all risk groups, including male-to-female (MTF) and female-to-male (FTM) transsexuals to self-examine monthly”.

Programme co-ordinator Edward Sibanda said: “Transgender men and women are also at risk of breast cancer due to exposure to the hormones oestrogen and progestin which influence the cancer.”

Sibanda said MTF transsexuals who had received high doses of oestrogen developed breast tissue identical to the tissue of a biologically female breast.

He said the risk of breast cancer increased following breast development, and heightened after five or more years of hormone therapy.

For FTM transsexuals, taking too much testosterone may also be a risk as excess testosterone converted to oestrogen. “We find that transgenders may feel uncomfortable with self-exams or medical exams, and therefore do not do them.

"They also assume that their chances of developing breast cancer are eliminated with surgery, but surgery does not remove all breast tissue. This is why self-examination as a detection tool can be life-saving, regardless of a person's gender,” said Sibanda.

He said transgender and transsexual people were less likely to undergo regular screening for breast cancer because they received lower quality medical care due to stigma and discrimination, or lack of knowledge by health-care workers.

“Trans people who don’t have access to good medical care or who avoid exams used to screen for cancer because of fear or prejudice risk the cancer not being found until it has already spread. The best defence against all cancer is early detection.

“The fact is that there is insufficient research on how transgender and transsexual individuals are affected by breast cancer. South Africa does not even have statistics on the size of its transsexual community,” Sibanda said.