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Understanding lesbians' healthcare behaviour: the case of breast self-examination

J Fish, S Wilkinson
Social Science & Medicine 2003, 56 (2): 235-45
Lesbians' risk of breast cancer is a much-debated issue in health research because lesbians are believed to be at higher risk of the disease than are heterosexual women. This belief is based upon particular risk factors for breast cancer, which are said to be more prevalent in lesbians; and upon differences in preventive health behaviours: in particular, lesbians are said to be less likely to practise breast self-examination (BSE). This paper presents data collected as part of the UK Lesbians and Healthcare Survey (n = 1066) focusing on lesbians who report never practising BSE (n = 218, 20%) and the explanations they offer for their healthcare behaviours. It identifies six types of explanation for not practising BSE: (i) "I don't know what I'm looking for"; (ii) "I've never got into the habit"; (iii) "I'm frightened in case I find something"; (iv) "I don't think I'm at much risk"; (v) "I'm uncomfortable with my body"; and (vi) "My partner does it for me". These findings are important for increasing understanding of lesbians' healthcare behaviour and for developing health promotion materials relevant to their needs.


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