Cancer and Women
Every year, cancer claims the lives of more than a quarter of a million women in America. Women can reduce their cancer risk by adopting a healthy lifestyle and getting the right cancer screening tests for their stage of life.
Tobacco Use and Secondhand Smoke
More women in the United States die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer, and cigarette smoking causes most cases. Smoking also causes acute myeloid leukemia and cancers of the esophagus, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach, and cervix. Secondhand smoke increases nonsmokers' lung cancer risk by 20%–30%. Concentrations of many cancer-causing and toxic chemicals are higher in secondhand smoke than in the smoke inhaled by smokers.
One of the most important things you can do to lower your risk of cancer is to stop smoking if you smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke.
Obesity, Overweight, and Lack of Physical Activity
For more than 30 years, excess weight, lack of physical activity, and an unhealthy diet have been considered second only to tobacco use as preventable causes of disease and death in the United States. Since the 1960s, tobacco use has decreased by a third while obesity rates have doubled.
The following six cancers are associated with being overweight: breast cancer among postmenopausal women, colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer, esophageal cancer, and cancer of the kidney and pancreas.
Sun Safety and Avoiding Indoor Tanning
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The two most common types of skin cancer—basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas—are highly curable. But melanoma, the third most common skin cancer, is more dangerous. About 65%–90% of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light—an invisible kind of radiation that comes from the sun, tanning beds, and sunlamps.
A few serious sunburns can increase your risk of skin cancer. To protect your skin from the sun, seek shade or go indoors during midday hours; wear long sleeves and long pants, a hat with a wide brim, and sunglasses; use sunscreen with a sun protective factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.
Indoor tanning exposes users to UV rays, which damage the skin and can lead to cancer. Tanning beds are particularly dangerous for young people; those who begin tanning before age 35 have a 60% to 80% higher risk of melanoma. Using tanning beds also increases the risk of wrinkles and eye damage, and changes skin texture.
Types of Cancer
Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer and the second most common cause of cancer deaths in American women. Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, before it can be felt, and when it is easier to treat. If you're 40–49 years old, talk to your doctor about when to start getting mammograms. If you're 50–74 years old, get a screening mammogram every two years.
Colorectal (Colon) Cancer
The third leading cause of cancer deaths in American women is colorectal cancer. Screening tests for colorectal cancer can find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests also can find colorectal cancer early, when treatment works best. Both men and women should be tested for colorectal cancer regularly starting at age 50.
Gynecologic cancers start in a woman's cervix, ovaries, uterus, vagina, vulva, or rarely, fallopian tubes. You can take steps to prevent some of these cancers.
Pap tests look for abnormal cells on the cervix that may turn into cancer. Removal of the abnormal cells prevents cervical cancer. Pap tests also can find cervical cancer early, when the chance of being cured is very high. The only cancer for which the Pap test screens is cervical cancer. It does not screen for ovarian, uterine, vaginal, or vulvar cancers.
In addition to the Pap test, the human papillomavirus (HPV) test may be used for screening women who are 30 years old or older, or at any age for those who have unclear Pap test results.
The HPV vaccine is available for girls and women who are 9–26 years old. It protects against most types of HPV that most often cause cervical cancer.
A cancer survivor is a person who has been diagnosed with cancer, from the time of diagnosis to the end of his or her life. Cancer survivors largely consist of people who are 65 years of age or older and women. Of the 11.7 million people living with cancer in 2007, 6.3 million were women, and the largest group of cancer survivors were breast cancer survivors (22%).
Cancer Patient Caregivers
People who have cancer often live at home, and get help from informal caregivers—people who help them without being paid. Informal caregivers are usually the cancer patient's spouse, family members, friends, or neighbors, and the majority of caregivers are women.
Many people get a sense of personal fulfillment from taking care of a loved one who has cancer. But informal caregivers usually face physical, emotional, and financial problems that vary according to the amount and kind of care the patient needs. CDC has compiled a list of resources for caregivers.
- Cancer Prevention
- Lung Cancer
- Breast Cancer
- Colorectal Cancer
- Gynecologic Cancers
- Cancer Among Women
- HPV and Cancer
- Women's Health
- Breast and Ovarian Cancer and Family Health History
Listen to or download a podcast:
- Quit Smoking for Your Family's Sake (:59) (2008)
- Get Your Mammogram! (4:17) (2010)
- Take Time to Save Your Life (3:27) (2008)
- Women: Be Aware (3:27) (2008)
- Don't Pass on this Test (4:29) (2008)
Send an eCard to family and friends:
Lung Cancer (Women)
Mammograms Save Lives
What You Need to Know
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Division of Cancer Prevention and Control
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