Northwestern study shows benefits of gender-affirming surgery in young people

Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

Northwestern Medicine recently published the first and only matched cohort study evaluating the best surgery in young people. The results show that the procedure improves quality of life and mental health.

A new study led by Northwestern Medicine and two other Chicago institutions shows that gender-affirming surgery for transgender and non-binary adolescents and young adults improves quality of life and mental health.

According to the first arm of the two-part study, published Sept. 26, people assigned female at birth who had upper surgery reported statistically significant decreases in chest dysphoria and improvements in congruence between gender and body image three months after surgery. Dysphoria is a lingering feeling of disconnect between gender identity and physical presentation, while gender congruence is a feeling of euphoria towards gender and body image.

“I hope this (study) provides the information needed for lawmakers to make an informed decision based on science,” said Feinberg fourth-year student Daniel Sasson.

This legislative session, 20 states have filed at least one ban limiting transgender medical care, according to Freedom for All Americans’ Legislative Tracker.

Sasson, who has contributed to other research on gender-affirming surgery, began working on the study when it began in 2019.

Professor Feinberg and director of the Gender Pathways program, Dr. Sumanas Jordan, is the lead author of the study. She said the most significant limitation of the study was the short time period studied post-surgery, which several media outlets, including Fox News, criticized.

The second part of the study will analyze data one year after surgery, Sasson said. The research team recently completed data collection and is currently reviewing the results.

Sasson said he immediately knew the study would have an impact because it’s the first to formally characterize outcomes for thoracic surgery patients.

The study is prospective, meaning it studies young transgender people through the process of top surgery, Jordan said. This made the study the first of its kind to assess the effect of surgery in young transgender people to date.

Jordan said the study is a good “starting point” to de-stigmatize gender-affirming surgery.

“Starting the conversation and a good scientific investigation of the things we’re doing is very important,” Jordan said. “Right now there’s so much controversy and people are polarized, and these things are based on emotions and opinions. It’s science and medicine.

Bienen sophomore Eli, who asked not to include his last name to protect his privacy, is in the process of being scheduled for chest reduction surgery and said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the study.

Eli, a transgender man, said broader discussions about top surgery and its impacts are essential in the fight for wider acceptance. However, given the current political climate, they are also concerned that people are weaponizing the data instead.

Legal concerns are one of many hurdles for people seeking gender-affirming surgery, Eli said. He wants everyone to be better informed about transgender issues, especially medical providers.

Although their therapist approved their gender-affirming chest surgery in late July, Eli said they were unable to set a date for their procedure due to their health insurance’s continued inability to provide informations. They said they constantly called their healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente for months, but were constantly cheated by employees.

Eli said it was difficult to manage his own uncertainty in an environment where his decisions are constantly questioned.

“So far it’s been,” Eli said, pausing, “rocky. I just feel frustrated because I know it’s so close, but there are obstacles that I have no clue about. control and I don’t have access to figure out how to get there.

Jordan and Sasson said a major goal of the study was to spread more information about the benefits of gender-affirming surgery, especially for patients, parents and surgeons.

Sasson said he wants to help surgeons around the world gain the confidence to perform these procedures and invalidate the legislative argument that there is not enough data on them.

“We owe it to our trans kids and our parents to provide the best possible care,” Jordan said.

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @marthacontrerr

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