Cancer and Women

What to know

You can take steps every day to lower your chance of getting certain kinds of cancer.


Photo of two women
You can lower your chance of getting cancer by staying up-to-date on screening tests and making healthy choices.

Most cancers take years to develop. Many things can affect your chance of getting cancer. Things that raise your chance of getting cancer are called risk factors.

You can’t control some risk factors, like getting older. But you can control many others. In fact, there are things you can do every day to avoid getting cancer. Two of the most important things you can do are making healthy choices and getting the screening tests that are right for you.

Under the Paper Gown

In this video, Amber Ruffin gets ready for her gynecologist appointment by making a list of questions to ask the doctor.

Healthy choices

Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to lower your cancer risk. Smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body. If you don't smoke, make sure you stay away from other people's smoke.

The link between smoking and cancer is well-known. But you may be surprised by other things that can lead to cancer.

  • Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or artificial sources like a tanning bed, booth, or sunlamp can cause skin cancer, the most common cancer.
  • Drinking alcohol raises your risk of getting six kinds of cancer, including breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
  • About 40% of all cancers are associated with overweight and obesity.

Learn more about making healthy choices.

Screening tests

Screening tests can find breast, cervical, and colorectal (colon) cancers early, when treatment works best. Lung cancer screening is recommended for some people who are at high risk.

Breast cancer screening

Mammograms are the best test to find breast cancer early.

The US Preventive Services Task Force (Task Force), a group of experts, recommends that you get a mammogram every 2 years if you’re 40 to 74 years old and are at average risk for breast cancer.

Learn more about breast cancer screening.

Cervical cancer screening

You should get screened for cervical cancer regularly starting at age 21.

Two screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early. The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately. The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause these cell changes.

Learn more about cervical cancer screening.

Colorectal cancer screening

If you’re 45 to 75 years old, get screened regularly.

You should start getting screened for colorectal cancer soon after turning 45, and get screened regularly until you’re 75. Several screening tests are available. Some can be done at home, and others are done in a doctor’s office. Talk to your doctor about which test is right for you.

Learn more about colorectal cancer screening.

Lung cancer screening

Screening is recommended for people who are 50 to 80 years old and are current or former heavy smokers.

The Task Force recommends yearly lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) for people who are 50 to 80 years old, have a history of heavy smoking, and smoke now or quit within the past 15 years.

Learn more about lung cancer screening.

Featured resources

  • "The routine cervical screenings changed my life," says Jasmine, after a test found precancerous cells. She shares her story in this video.
  • When you get the results of your mammogram, you may also be told that you have dense breasts. This video explains what that means and why it's important.
  • Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Too much sun can increase your risk. This video explains how to protect your skin from the sun.