It Appears That Breast Cancer Is Just One Of Those Things About Being A Woman


Around here we’re used to seeing the world through a particular lens. To the point of monomania in fact, using economics as our foundational logic system. This means that we’re always fascinated by natural experiments. For within economics it’s terribly difficult to conduct controlled such. Sure, you can torture some undergraduates in a lab but that’s not all that illuminating about the real world and entire economies are difficult to herd onto a university campus.

The monomania means that it can take time for us to remember that other subjects work differently. As here with trans women and breast cancer. Our initial reaction was, wow, what fun, we’ve a natural experiment here! Isn’t that unusual and don’t we learn a lot from it? It really did take a bit of time to recall that such natural stuff is exactly how medicine has always worked. You know, noting correlations between certain events and thus trying to track back to work out the causation of the correlation? Leading, say, to handpumps being locked.

Risk of breast cancer rises 46 times for trans women after hormone therapy, study shows

The cause being?

Trans women who undergo sex change procedures must be warned that their risk of developing breast cancer increases by 46 times, in comparison to men. A new study of more than 2,000 women who had transitioned from men showed that around 1 in 200 developed breast cancer compared to fewer than one in 8,000 of men. Although the risk was around one third less than naturally born women, experts from the Netherlands said it was important that doctors and patients were aware of the increased threat, which is likely to be caused by injections of female hormones.

But what is it that we learn here? Not just that trans women should have mammograms. Rather, we appear to have learned something rather important about the incidence of breast cancer. At least, something we can hypothesise and then do that tracking back to confirm or refute. If the presence – assuming that it’s not the injection that causes it – of female hormones creates 2/3 rds of the normal breast cancer risk then we can at least hypothesise that 2/3 rds of breast cancer is caused by the simple presence of female hormones. Not even by the cycle of them, just the presence.

Which is interesting, isn’t it? Rather than there being any external cause, environment, pollution, aluminium in deodorant – an actual speculation – much of it seems to be stuff that just happens because women are. As with much prostate cancer, happens just because men are.

Which is indeed useful to know even if it’s not going to stop the American tort bar from pursuing what- and whom- ever.