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Cancer Risks for Women



Occurring nearly as often as the flu virus in many individuals, cancer has been an increasingly rampant and unfortunate disease in our nation. Thankfully, medical research has advanced to a point where treatment is not the excruciating process it once was. Many people have been able to bounce back from abnormal test results, tumor removal, and intensive treatment and recover to a certain level of normalcy. Cancer currently affects over 11 million individuals throughout the country, still remaining a threat to people of all ages.

Health insurance greatly assists with cancer diagnosis and prevention, as insured individuals have access to screenings, prevention, and treatment of these diseases. Though some policies will not cover certain cancer treatments once diagnosed, every medical insurance plan offers preventive care which includes screening for the main cancers affecting each gender and age group. These services are free of charge in most cases, covered in full by your plan to contribute to your wellness.

 

Risks for Women

Women are more susceptible to five different types of cancer in particular, including breast, lung, colorectal, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and uterine. Women cannot control their genetics and predisposed hereditary risk for cancers, nor the risk factors of their environment (air pollution, chemicals, water contamination), both of which play a strong role in likelihood of acquiring cancer. However, certain preventative actions can be taken in order to avoid your likelihood of acquiring cancer, including diet, weight, activity level, and smoking.

Though odds are that 2 out of 3 women will never get cancer, the ones who have are were mostly affected by these five types. In 2008, there were 700,000 women diagnosed with cancer. Of course, cervical and ovarian cancer are risks as well, but most women diagnosed with cancer in recent years experienced one of the following.

 

Breast Cancer

With an estimated 226,870 cases in 2012 and 39,510 deaths among women in the United States, according to the NCI, breast cancer is the second most prevalent cancer in females. Age and health history can affect the risk of developing breast cancer, as well as lifestyle choices. There are also preventive measures that can be taken in order to help prevent breast cancer.

Risks

  • Age: 2 of 3 women with invasive breast cancer are 55 or older.
  • Family history: if your mother, sister, or daughter has had breast cancer, your risk is doubled.
  • Race: White women have a higher risk than African-American women, though African-Americans are more likely to die from breast cancer, due in part to the probability of accelerated tumor growth.
  • Dense breast tissue
  • A higher than normal number amount of menstrual periods
  • Prior exposure to radiation
  • No pregnancies, or having your first pregnancy after age 30
  • Hormone replacement therapy/hormone therapy
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol: a study at the University of Oxford of 1.3 million women over a 7-year period, showed that drinking moderately (1 to 3 drinks per week) places you at a higher risk.

Prevention

  • Increasing exercise
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Taking medicines to treat a precancerous condition or to keep cancer from starting
  • Quitting smoking
  • Decreasing exposure of breast tissue to estrogen (pregnancy, breast-feeding, ovarian ablation, late menstruation, early menopause)
  • Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs)
  • Aromatase inhibitors
  • Prophylactic mastectomy (removal of both breasts with no signs of cancer)
  • Prophylactic oophorectomy (removal of both ovaries with no signs of cancer)
  • Fenretinide

 

Lung and Bronchus Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that 109,690 women will be diagnosed with cancer of the lung and bronchus in 2012.  A median age for diagnosis of lung cancer was 70 years old from 2005 – 2009. Unlike most other cancers, we have the ability to control this extremely prevalent type by not smoking. Smokers are 10 to 20 times more likely to get lung cancer than nonsmokers. There are other risk factors as well, which can be environmental and genetic.

Risks

  • Smoking
  • Family history of lung cancer
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Radon gas
  • Arsenic
  • Tar
  • Soot
  • Asbestos
  • Hormone therapy to treat menopausal symptoms
  • Beta carotene supplements in heavy smokers

 

Prevention

  • Increasing exercise
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Taking medicines to treat a precancerous condition or to keep cancer from starting
  • Quitting smoking
  • Not smoking
  • Lower exposure to workplace risk factors
  • Lower exposure to radon

 

Colon and Rectal Cancer

Occurring in mostly Americans over the age of 50, cancers of the colon are best prevented by early detection. A projected 70,040 women will be diagnosed with the disease in 2012, and a woman’s odds of getting this type of cancer in 1 in 19. It typically takes 10 to 15 years for abnormal cells to grow in the colon, therefore if you get regularly screened and get polyps removed before they become abnormal, this disease can be controlled.

Risks

  • Age: risk increases after age 50.
  • Family history: having a parent, sibling, or child, who has had colorectal cancer or polyps doubles your risk.
  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol: 3 or more drinks per day increases risk.
  • Cigarette smoking

 

Prevention

  • Increasing exercise
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Taking medicines to treat a precancerous condition or to keep cancer from starting
  • Quitting smoking
  • Aspirin: taking aspirin every day for at least 5 years decreases the risk of colorectal cancer and subsequent death. However, side effects include high risk of bleeding in the intestines, stomach, or brain.
  • Hormone replacement therapy with both estrogen and progesterone lowers risk in postmenopausal women for colon cancer only, no proof for rectal.
  • Polyp removal

 

Endometrial Cancer (Uterine Corpus)

Accounting for 6 percent of all cancer cases and 3 percent of all deaths in women with cancer, a woman’s odds of getting endometrial cancer are 1 in 41. Hormonal changes, notably linked to estrogen, are especially important factors in determining risk for this cancer of the uterus. As of 2012, there were 47,130 new cases and 8,010 deaths related to endometrial cancer. Though little is known regarding actual risks and protective measures to be taken, there is speculation as to what may cause and prevent the disease.

Risks

  • Estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy
  • Early menstruation
  • Late menopause
  • Never being pregnant
  • Use of Tamoxifen
  • Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer syndrome
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Obesity

 

Prevention

  • Combination oral contraceptives: includes both estrogen and progestin.
  • Physical activity
  • Pregnancy and breast-feeding
  • A diet low in saturated fats and soy, and high in fruits and vegetables

 

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

With 70,130 new cases diagnosed, and 18,940 reported deaths in 2012, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is any of a large group of cancer of the white blood cells. They can occur at any age and are usually identified by larger than normal lymph nodes, fever, and weight loss. These cancers can affect any part of the immune system, including the lymph nodes, tonsils and adenoids, spleen, bone marrow, or thymus gland. Prevention of the disease has not yet been discovered, however, avoiding immune deficiency diseases such as HIV is one measure you can take.

Risks

  • Age: most cases occur in individuals age 60 or older
  • Obesity
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, specifically insecticides and herbicides
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • A weakened immune system, more so if connected to a long-term infection or organ transplant

 

Prevention

  • Healthy diet
  • Physical activity
  • Avoiding risks such as chemical exposure
  • Avoiding autoimmune diseases or low immunity

 

 

References:

 

1. American Cancer Society. “Cancer Facts and Figures.” http://www.cancer.org/research/cancerfactsfigures/index.

2. National Cancer Institute. “Cancer Causes and Risk Factors.” http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/causes.

 

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