Cancers Affecting Women
Let’s replace fear with knowledge and learn about the most common Cancers affecting Women and how we can proactively strive to prevent them in our lives. For a woman, there are few things as persistently terrifying as cancer. What woman has not been affected – if not themselves, a close relative or dear friend? Many women have seen more than one person in their extended family afflicted, and sometimes wonder – am I next?
Cancer is a fearful and almost insufferable condition for any human, regardless of gender, but why is it that the cancers that affect most women, and in such large numbers, seem to mostly affect the very body parts that define them as a woman?
We are going to be exploring background information on cancers that affect women. Hopefully knowledge will provide empowerment. Understanding the different types of cancer, their causes or contributing factors and symptoms and signs should help women recognize warning signs.
When it comes to cancer, early detection is everything.
What is even more promising is the growing understanding that women can exercise a large degree of control over their susceptibility to cancer – there are lifestyle aspects that can be modified to reduce risks, instead of fearfully waiting and wondering.
Cancers Affecting Women
Becoming familiar with the common cancers which may affect you as a woman can help you prevent or discover them early. With all cancers, early detection is paramount in any recovery action or program.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer for women, but men can also be affected. Those who spend time in the sun are the most susceptible, but some skin cancers do not need sun exposure to begin or develop. Those with fair skin and blonde or red hair color develop this cancer at a much higher rate than those with dark coloring.
7 Warning signs:
- Changes in the appearance of a mole
- Skin changes after a mole has been removed
- Itchiness and Oozing
- A sore or spot that won’t go away
- Scaly patches of skin
- Vision Problems
- Changes in your fingernails or toenails
Resources for you:
Learn more about this almost “silent” killer at The Skin Cancer Foundation HERE
Breast cancer risks are more prevalent and elevate as women age – although it can occur at any age – except for skin cancers it is the most common cancer that affects women.
Some women are more prone to developing breast cancer than others. Knowing your risk and what can be done about this diagnosis is very important. Knowing you are genetically predisposed will enable you to make proactive lifestyle choices to reduce your risk.
When breast cancer is discovered early, it’s much easier to treat, with greater success rates. Early detection can be accomplished with annual breast cancer screening and mammograms and women 55 and older only need mammograms every two years.
Women at high risk for developing breast cancer because of genetic history or other factors should also have MRIs when they receive a mammogram. Be sure to report to you doctor if you notice any changes in how your breasts normally feel and look.
Resources for you:
Colon or Rectal Cancer
Colon or rectal cancers are common cancer which may affect women. Women who are 50 or older and who have a family history of colon cancer, or problems with polyps in the rectum or colon, or inflammatory bowel disease, are more likely to develop cancer of the colon.
Obesity, a diet high in fat, smoking and a lack of exercise are lifestyle issues which can increase the incidence of women developing colon cancer also.
Resources for you:
The Mayo Clinic has some good information on their website regarding symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment.
Another common type of cancer which can strike women is lung cancer. Women who smoke are much more likely to develop lung cancer than those who don’t, but all women are somewhat susceptible to this cancer. Of course, if you are breathing in other people’s cigarette smoke, you are also putting yourself at risk, as second-hand smoke is very damaging to healthy pink lungs.
Vaginal and Vulvar Cancers affecting Women
The good news is that vaginal and vulvar cancers are very rare and are unusual in younger women. It tends to manifest itself on the vulva area as a sore or lump and causes itching.
Exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV) can increase the risk of these types of cancers in women.
It was reported by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) that vaginal and vulvar cancers only affect six to seven percent of all U.S. gynecologic cancer diagnosis and the treatment is extremely effective if discovered early on.
A woman’s vulva is the outer part of the female genital area and consists of the labia (two folds of skin). Vulvar cancer usually begins on the inner area of the labia. What’s comforting is that an early detection can mean a quick cure and recovery.
Signs of Vulvar Cancer
You can help yourself here, and some of the signs of vulvar cancer to watch for include:
- Ulcers, sores or lumps on the vulva
- Bleeding, burning or itching on the vulva
- Pain in the pelvic area during sex or when you urinate
- Rash, warts or any skin changes on the vulva
- Skin color changes such as redness or extremely white
Signs of Vaginal Cancer
Cancer which begins in the vaginal area is naturally called vaginal cancer. The vagina (birth canal) is the area which appears as a long, hollow tube which begins at the bottom of the uterus and travels to the outside of the body.
Sometimes there are no symptoms of vaginal cancer in the early stages, but later the following signs may appear:
- Constipation – Any change in bathroom habits such as constipation, going more often than normal, blood in the urine or stool.
- Vaginal discharge – Any abnormal showing of blood or vaginal discharge of any type that isn’t normal.
- Pelvic pain – Pain in the area below the stomach and between the hip bones when you urinate or have sexual intercourse could be a sign.
The best advice for women to catch vaginal and vulvar cancer early on is to get to know your body and what’s normal for you. Any unusual changes such as vaginal bleeding which isn’t normal should be checked by your doctor right away.
Precautionary Steps to Protect Yourself
You can protect yourself from contracting vaginal and vulvar cancers by taking steps to prevent catching the (human papillomavirus) since nearly all cervical and other gynecologic cancers are caused by this virus.
The HPV vaccine is available and recommended for girls and boys who are age 11 to 12 years old. It’s usually given as a series of two or three shots. Even if you’ve had the HPV vaccine, you should have periodic screenings and Pap smear testing to check for these types of cancers.
Gynecologic Cancers affecting Women
Gynecological types of cancers can wreak havoc on a woman’s lifestyle and threaten her life. If caught early, most gynecologic cancers can be treated successfully. Some can be prevented, or have the risk of contracting them greatly reduced, by taking proper precautions.
There are different types of gynecologic cancers, including:
1. Cervical cancer
2. Ovarian cancer
3. Uterine or Endometrial cancer
It is believed that contact with HPV (human papilloma virus) is required to trigger cervical cancer, however contact does not mean that cancer will result.
A large range of factors which can increase the risk of developing cervical cancer have been identified. These include having sexual intercourse earlier in life, unprotected sex with numerous partners and obesity. It’s also been stated that smokers are more at risk of developing cervical cancer than non-smokers.
Cervical cancer is found at the entrance of the womb (uterus) and could be symptom free – and only discovered through an examination and tests.
If symptoms do appear, they’ll likely be in the form of pain or irregular bleeding.
Current medical belief is that cervical cancer is caused by have contracted the sexually transmitted virus HPV (human papillomavirus). However, many women will have had contact with this virus in their lifetime and not all will develop cancer. Other factors play a part in determining whether the virus will develop into a dangerous cancer.
The recognized contributing factors are quite diverse and no single one is a specific determinant, they are simply correlations made from databases of affected women. For this reason, it is important to undertake testing at the recommended intervals.
Cervical cancer is more prevalent among women who:
- are sexually active at an early age
- have experienced long periods of mental stress
- have a weakened immune system
- engage in unprotected sex with numerous partners
Treatments for cervical cancer depend on the stage at which it’s diagnosed. Some treatment plans might include chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and other innovative options. Included in the treatment plan should be methods to keep up your energy, strength and quality of life.
Pap Smears for Cervical Cancer
A pap smear is the test for cervical cancer which is performed by collecting a cell sample from the cervix and tested in a laboratory. Results of the Pap smear are classified as normal, unclear or abnormal. If the results are abnormal, your doctor will use a lighted instrument to look for cancerous growths around the cervix.
A DNA test for HPV
A DNA test for HPV (human papillomavirus) is a test which is approved for screening of cervical cancer. The test is performed during a pelvic exam and if deemed abnormal, a Pap test is then required. Every woman should be tested for the human papillomavirus (HPV). This DNA test has been approved as a screening test for cervical cancer. Further testing might include a colposcopy to detect certain strains of the virus. This virus is responsible for most of the cervical cancer cases in the U.S.
Over 11,000 women in America are diagnosed each year with cervical cancer. It’s good to know that the survival rate for cervical cancer is very good if the disease is detected early.
Resources for you:
The American Cancer society has very good and thorough information on Cervical Cancer. They even list questions to ask your Doctor. Please check them out HERE.
Women who develop ovarian cancer often have no symptoms until the cancer has spread. Ovarian cancer is much more difficult to treat in the later stages, so it’s imperative that it’s caught early on.
Ovarian cancer symptoms can be non-existent early, and vague or non-specific (to the affected area) later on. Symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:
- weight loss and loss of appetite, but may also be manifested with bloating
- pain in the abdomen or pelvic regions
- frequent urination
- back pain and fatigue
Ovarian Cancer Test
The BRCA gene mutation test involves a sample of your saliva or blood to distinguish whether or not you have high risk genes for developing certain types of cancers such as ovarian cancer. This test can either reduce your anxiety for developing cancer or raise your awareness level so you are periodically tested.
After a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, a woman might choose between treatments including chemotherapy, radiation and choose among complementary therapies such as acupuncture, meditation and massage to lessen the side effects of the treatments.
Resources for you:
Weill Cornell Medicine has some very good information on Ovarian Cancer. You can check it out HERE.
Uterine cancer is another type of common cancer in women. It begins in the cells of the lining of the uterus and causative factors can include beginning periods at an early age and obesity. Vaginal bleeding after menopause or bleeding between periods may be symptoms of uterine cancer.
Symptoms of uterine cancer might include:
- bleeding between periods in younger women
- vaginal bleeding after menopause in older women.
Uterine and Endometrial Test
A pelvic exam is the first step in detecting uterine and endometrial types of cancer. If the physical exam reveals a possible tumor, the doctor will recommend an ultrasound test to get a complete picture and then make a diagnosis. Again, early detection and treatment ensures a better outcome.
Uterine cancer is very treatable and methods may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, biologic therapy and hormone therapy. If discovered early, uterine cancer may be treated with surgery to remove the uterus, but advanced stages may require radiation or chemotherapy.
Lowering your chances of developing gynecological cancers by taking certain precautions and changing your lifestyle is the best way to ensure you never have to deal with these devastating types of women’s cancers.
Knowing the different types of cancers that can affect women helps you better understand what you need to be on the lookout for. Knowing your options and what you can do to prevent these types of cancers is your best line of defense.
Getting all the information you can and taking the steps to reduce the risks, can save your life.
Live Simply and Healthy,
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