Presenters at a Sept. 12 event in Clintonville are working to make central Ohio's transgender community more aware of the risks of breast cancer.

Julia Applegate, director of Equitas Health, a nonprofit community-based health-care system that focuses on those with HIV and the LGBTQ population in central Ohio, spoke during the event titled "Breast Cancer in the LGBTQ Community."

Co-sponsored by Cancer Support Community Central Ohio, based in northwest Columbus, and Equitas, the educational session was held at the latter's Clintonville headquarters.

The purpose of the gathering was to provide information on whether transwomen and transmen need mammograms and why lesbians are thought to have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, along with prevention tips and what approach to take if diagnosed with the disease.

The presenters -- sonographer Tina Fahy and Lynne Brophy, a breast-oncology clinical nurse specialist -- both are from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center's Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center.

"We really want this to be a time when you can ask questions and interact," Angie Santangelo, clinical program director with Cancer Support Community, told the dozen or so people who attended the session.

"We know that our population is at higher risk for breast cancer," Applegate said.

Estrogen has a major impact on breast tissue, Fahy said.

That means females who started their periods at a young age and didn't experience menopause until late in life face a greater breast-cancer risk because of how much longer their bodies were producing estrogen, Fahy said.

Also, people who transition from male to female have breast-cancer risks as a result of the hormone therapy that's part of the process, she said.

Those who transition from female to male still face the possibility of breast cancer, Brophy said. Even if all the breast tissue was removed during surgery, (transmen) older than 40 should have their chest wall and armpit lymph nodes evaluated annually, she said.

"We don't have a ton of research on this," Brophy said.

Likewise, according to the National LGBT Cancer Network, research is lacking on possible increased breast-cancer cases in lesbians.

"So far, the information we have on breast cancer in lesbians has been both limited and contradictory," the nonprofit organization's website states. "The large national cancer registries and surveys do not collect data about sexual orientation, leaving lesbians embedded and invisible among this vast wealth of information."

Risk factors for all people Brophy described as "breast owners" include:

* Increasing age

* Family history

* Inherited genetic mutations

* Ethnicity and race

* Reproductive history

Also during the Sept. 12 event, Applegate addressed the LGBTQ movement to take back the word queer.

Although many people continue to find the term profoundly offensive, others are identifying themselves with the term and, in the process, blunting its capacity to wound, she said.

"It's really an umbrella term -- and a term you want to step lightly around," Applegate said. "It's really about reclaiming a term that had a lot of negative connotations."

According to Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the word has come to mean anyone who doesn't identify under the binaries of either straight/gay or male/female.

The term, PFLAG notes, could represent freedom and acceptance and acknowledges that each person's sexuality and identity are distinct.

"It makes us feel more empowered," said Applegate, who said she self-identifies as both a lesbian and queer.

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1