One out of every three women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during her lifetime. Certain types of cancer are especially common among females. If you’re a woman, some general knowledge about these conditions, including prevention and early detection strategies, can potentially save your life.
Five cancers that predominantly affect women are:
- Breast cancer – Excluding skin cancer, breast cancer is most common type of cancer diagnosed in women. While the condition can occur at any age, the risk level generally increases as a woman gets older. The best defense against breast cancer is to find it early, before it has spread and when more treatment options are available. Breast cancer screening tests, such as mammograms and ultrasounds, are often credited with the early detection of precancerous and cancerous cells in women who have no symptoms. Every woman is encouraged to speak with her physician about the screening methods and frequency that are appropriate for her.
- Uterine (endometrial cancer) – As of yet, there are no routine screening tests available to detect uterine cancer in women who do not have symptoms. For this reason, all women are encouraged to pay close attention to any unusual vaginal bleeding, which is the most common symptom of endometrial cancer. For instance, if a woman experiences vaginal bleeding between regular menstrual periods or after menopause, or if she bleeds excessively during a menstrual period, she should seek prompt medical attention.
- Ovarian cancer – Because no screening method has proven reliable enough at detecting ovarian cancer, the best way for a woman to protect herself is to understand the risk factors for ovarian cancer (family history and high risk inherited genes, low birth rate, early first menstruation, late menopause, etc.) and discuss these with her doctor. Also, she should become familiar with her body and what is normal for her, and to report any unusual changes, such as persistent and increasing bloating or constipation, to a medical professional.
- Cervical cancer – A cervical cancer screening test, such as a Pap smear, can detect cellular changes in the cervix that could potentially lead to cancer. When diagnosed and treated in its earliest stages, cervical cancer is highly curable. Because this condition typically does not produce symptoms until the cancer progresses to an advanced stage, screening is essential for early detection and the best possible outcome.
- Thyroid cancer – In recent years, the number of women who are diagnosed with thyroid cancer has skyrocketed. But, many experts believe that it is not the overall number of cases that is increasing, but rather the number of incidental diagnoses that are being made through physical exams, dental check-ups, blood tests, MRIs and CT scans performed for other reasons. To increase the likelihood of early detection, all women are encouraged to have a simple “neck check” routinely performed by a medical professional, and also to learn to perform a self-exam.
In some cases, a woman’s cancer diagnosis can be directly linked to her family medical history, which cannot be controlled, or environmental factors, which can be controlled only to a certain extent. But, certain lifestyle factors, such as eating habits, physical activity level, body weight and tobacco use, are known to influence cancer risk – and are also completely manageable. By learning about the various risk factors associated with cancer, a woman can take important steps to minimize her individual risk.
For more information about cancers that affect women or to discuss screening with an expert oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center, you can call 1-888-MOFFITT or complete our new patient registration form online. You do not need a referral.