Transgender people can have unique health care needs. Here's help understanding these concerns and how to address them.
Transgender health concerns
"Transgender" is an umbrella term used to capture the spectrum of gender identity and gender-expression diversity. Gender identity is the internal sense of being male, female, neither or both. Gender expression — often an extension of gender identity — involves the expression of a person's gender identity through social roles, appearance and behaviors.
Many health concerns that transgender people face are due to minority stress, which is characterized by:
- Negative social attitudes and disapproval (social stigma) toward transgender people
- Abuse, harassment, neglect, rejection or unfair treatment (discrimination) of transgender people
- Internalization of social stigma, turning it into negative attitudes and thoughts toward one's self (internalized stigma)
For example, minority stress is linked to transgender people seeking out less preventive care and screenings than that of cisgender people of similar ages, whose gender identity and expression match the sex they were assigned at birth. This might be due to a lack of gender-related insurance coverage, being refused care, difficulty finding a doctor with expertise in transgender care or fear of discrimination in a health care setting.
In addition, because of minority stress, transgender people are at risk of:
- Emotional and psychological abuse
- Physical and sexual violence
- Sexually transmitted infections, viral hepatitis and HIV
- Substance misuse
- Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts
What you can do
See a doctor
If you're a transgender person, don't avoid seeing a doctor out of fear of a negative encounter. Instead, look for a doctor who is empathetic and respectful of your specific needs. By doing so, your doctor can help identify ways to reduce your risk of health concerns, as well as identify medical conditions and refer you to specialists when necessary.
To find a doctor with transgender expertise, check the website for the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) or GLMA.
Once you're talking to your doctor, be honest. Share your gender identity. Tell your doctor about any medicines you take or have taken, any surgeries or procedures you've had, and any associated complications or concerns. Talk about any stress, discrimination, anxiety or depression you're experiencing and how you cope. Also, tell your doctor if you're sexually active. The more your doctor knows about your health history, the better the doctor will be able to help you.
Experts recommend that you take steps to protect your health based on your anatomy, regardless of your gender identity or expression. This might include:
- Age-appropriate screening for cervical and breast cancers
- Age-appropriate screening for prostate cancer
- Age-appropriate screening for colon cancer
- Age-appropriate vaccinations
- Screening for mental health conditions
- Screening for substance abuse
- Screening for HIV
- Screening for hepatitis
Additional issues might need to be considered if you have had feminizing or masculinizing hormone therapy or surgery.
Your health is important — regardless of your gender identity or gender expression. If you're due for a screening or you have health concerns, don't put off seeing a doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment help promote long-term health.