Some of the cancers that most often affect women are breast, colon, endometrial, lung, cervical, skin, and ovarian cancers. Knowing about these cancers and what you can do to help prevent them or find them early (when they are small and easier to treat) may help save your life.
Cancers are a large family of diseases that involve abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body.They form a subset of neoplasms. A neoplasm or tumor is a group of cells that have undergone unregulated growth and will often form a mass or lump, but may be distributed diffusely
The best defense is to find breast cancer early – when it’s small, has not spread, and is easier to treat. Finding breast cancer early is called “early detection.” The American Cancer Society recommends the following for breast cancer early detection:
Most colon cancers (cancers of the colon or rectum) are found in people age 50 or older. People with a personal or family history of this cancer, or who have polyps in their colon or rectum, or those with inflammatory bowel disease are more likely to have colon cancer. Also, being overweight, eating a diet mostly of high-fat foods (especially from animal sources), smoking, and being inactive can make a person more likely to have this cancer.
Colon cancer almost always starts with a polyp – a small growth on the lining of the colon or rectum. Testing can help save lives by finding polyps before they become cancer. If pre-cancerous polyps are removed, colon cancer can be prevented. For people at average risk, the American Cancer Society recommends getting one of the following tests, starting at age 50:
Endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus) occurs most often in women age 55 and older. Taking estrogen without progesterone and taking tamoxifen for breast cancer treatment or to lower breast cancer risk can increase a woman’s chance for this cancer. Having an early onset of menstrual periods, late menopause, a history of infertility, or not having children can increase the risk, too. Women with a personal or family history of hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC) or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or those who are obese are also more likely to have endometrial cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends that at the time of menopause, all women should be told about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer. Watch for symptoms, such as unusual spotting or bleeding not related to menstrual periods, and report these to a health care provider. The Pap test is very good at finding cancer of the cervix, but it’s not a test for endometrial cancer.
The American Cancer Society also recommends that women who have or are likely to have hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC) be offered yearly testing with an endometrial biopsy by age 35. This applies to women known to carry HNPCC-linked gene mutations, women who are likely to carry such mutations (those who know the mutation runs in their families), and women from families with a tendency to get colon cancer where genetic testing has not been done.
At least 8 out of 10 lung cancer deaths are thought to result from smoking. But people who don’t smoke can also have lung cancer.
Lung cancer is one of the few cancers that can often be prevented simply by not smoking. If you are a smoker, ask a health care provider to help you quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start, and avoid breathing in other people’s smoke. If your friends and loved ones are smokers, help them quit. For help quitting, call your American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 to find out how we can help improve your chances of quitting for good.
Certain women at high risk for lung cancer may want to talk to a health care provider about whether getting yearly low-dose CT scans to test for early lung cancer is right for them. Testing may benefit adults who are current or former smokers between the ages of 55 and 74 who are in good health and who have a 30 pack-year smoking history. (A pack-year is 1 pack of cigarettes per day per year. One pack per day for 30 years or 2 packs per day for 15 years would both be 30 pack-years.) You should discuss the benefits, limitations, and risks of lung cancer testing with a health professional before testing is done.
Cervical cancer can affect any woman who is or has been sexually active. It occurs in women who have had the human papilloma virus (HPV). This virus is passed during sex. Cervical cancer is also more likely in women who smoke, have HIV or AIDS, have poor nutrition, and who do not get regular Pap tests.
A Pap test can find changes in the cervix that can be treated before they become cancer. The Pap test is also very good at finding cervical cancer early, when it can often be cured. The American Cancer Society recommends the following:
Anyone who spends time in the sun can get skin cancer. People with fair skin, especially those with blond or red hair, are more likely to get skin cancer than people with darker coloring. People who have had a close family member with melanoma and those who had bad sunburns as children are more likely to get skin cancer.
Most skin cancers can be prevented by limiting exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and other sources like tanning beds. When outside, try to stay in the shade, especially during the middle of the day. If you’re going to be in the sun, wear hats with brims, long-sleeve shirts, sunglasses, and use broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher on all exposed skin. If you have children, protect them from the sun and don’t let them get sunburned. Do not use tanning beds or lamps.
Be aware of all moles and spots on your skin, and report any changes to a health care provider right away. Have a skin exam done during your regular health check-ups.
Ovarian cancer is more likely to occur as women get older. Women who have never had children, who have unexplained infertility, or who had their first child after age 30 may be at increased risk for this cancer. Women who have used estrogen alone as hormone replacement therapy are also at increased risk. Women with a personal or family history of hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), ovarian cancer, or breast cancer are more likely to have this disease. But women who don’t have any of these conditions can still get ovarian cancer.
At this time, there are no good tests for finding ovarian cancer early. A Pap test does not find ovarian cancer. But there are some tests that might be used in women who have a high risk of ovarian cancer.
You should see a health care provider right away if you have any of these symptoms for more than a few weeks: