Cancer Prevention for Women: What You Need to Know

Woman receiving a mammogram

Cancer touches everyone’s lives, whether directly affecting your own personal health or the health of a loved one, friend or co-worker. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), approximately 39.5% of U.S. men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point within their lifetime, meaning that 1 out of 3 people will face personal cancer diagnosis during their life.

In the U.S., prostate, lung and colorectal cancers account for an estimated 43% of all cancers diagnosed in men during 2020. For U.S. women, the 3 most common cancer types are breast, lung and colorectal, accounting for an estimated 50% of all new cancer diagnoses in 2020. An estimated 1.8 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed within the U.S. alone this year, with 606,520 deaths directly attributed to cancer in just one year’s time.

February is National Cancer Prevention Month and your local Capital Women’s Care team wants to share important information about the 7 predominant cancers that greatly impact women’s health in the U.S., risk factors and lifestyle changes you can initiate to minimize your cancer risk plus  recommended test and screening guidelines for early cancer detection, providing you the best opportunity possible for favorable outcome and prognosis should you become diagnosed.

Decreasing Your Cancer Risks

While 5-10% of cancer cases are related to genetic issues, 90-95% of cancer diagnoses can be directly attributed to environmental and lifestyle factors, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) states at least 18% of all cancers diagnosed within the U.S. are related to unhealthy lifestyle habits and could thus be preventable.

The decisions you make daily directly impact your cancer risk. Conscious lifestyle decisions toward healthy choices stack the odds in your favor against cancer.

You can greatly aid your defense against cancer risks by:

  • stopping and avoiding all smoking and other tobacco uses.
  • maintaining a healthy diet of whole foods and grains, lean proteins, fiber, fruits and vegetables while limiting red and processed meats, animal fats and processed foods.
  • avoiding heavy alcohol use.
  • maintaining a healthy weight and Body Mass Index (BMI.)
  • being physically active through both cardio and strength training, walking and any sports or other activities you enjoy.
  • eliminating exposure to environmental pollutants such as formaldehyde, food additives and pesticides.

Additionally, it’s important that you:

  • incorporate recommended preventative screenings
  • perform regular self-examinations
  • and receive vaccinations for infection-based cancers (like cervical cancer) as directed by your physician based on your personal health history and individual care plan and recommended guidelines.

Being proactive about your health is an important factor in decreasing your overall cancer risks.

Getting recommended tests, screenings and vaccines in combination with healthy lifestyle habits incorporated within your daily routine offers you the best possible defense against cancer diagnosis and best opportunity for positive prognosis and outcome should you become diagnosed.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in U.S. women, except for skin cancers. The ACS estimates 30.3% of newly diagnosed cancers in women in 2020 attributed to breast cancer. Awareness for breast cancer screenings and encouraging self-examination has improved early detection and survival rates over the past several decades, making today’s five-year survival rate 90%.

Breast cancer can occur at any age, but risk increases with age. Certain factors like family history and having specific genetic mutation also increases risk.

Recommended regular screenings are the most reliable way to diagnose breast cancer early, when a tumor is small and has not spread, making it easier to treat and, most importantly, can help prevent death.

The ACS recommends the following for women at average risk for breast cancer:

  • Women age 40 to 44 should have the choice to start yearly breast cancer screening with a mammogram.
  • Women age 45 to 54 should get a mammogram every year.
  • Women age 55 and older may switch to a mammogram every 2 years or may continue annual screening. Screening should continue while you remain in good health.
  • Women at high risk due to family history or having genetic mutation should be screened with MRI along with a mammogram.

Women should also monitor their breast health through monthly self-exams, know what is normal for their breasts’ look and feel and report any changes to their physician immediately.

Women at high risk for breast cancer may wish to consider genetic counseling or genetic testing to further monitor breast health.

Talk with your local Capital Women’s Care team about your personal breast cancer risk and the best screening plan for you.

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer will affect 69,650 women newly diagnosed in 2020, according to projections by the ACS. Some factors which increase colorectal cancer risk include being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, a diet high in red and processed meats, smoking, heavy alcohol use, being older and having either personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps.

Regular colorectal cancer screening is one of the most powerful weapons against colorectal cancer. Most colorectal cancers begin with a polyp, a small growth on the colon or rectum linings. Screening can help find colorectal cancer early, when it’s smaller and hasn’t spread, thus making it easier to treat and offer better prognosis.

Certain screening tests can also help prevent colorectal cancer by finding and removing polyps before they develop into cancer.

The ACS recommends the following for people at average risk for colorectal cancer:

  • Men and women should start regular screening at age 45.
  • People in good health and with a life expectancy of 10+ years should continue regular colorectal cancer screening through age 75.
  • For people ages 76 through 85, the decision to be screened should be based on their preferences, life expectancy, overall health and prior screening history.
  • People 85+ should no longer get colorectal cancer screening.
  • People at high risk of colorectal cancer based on family and/or personal history or other factors may need to: start screening before age 45, be screened more often, or get specific tests.

Talk to your local Capital Women’s Care team about your colorectal cancer risk to know when you should initiate testing.

The ACS also recommends stool-based tests and visual exams of the colon and rectum via colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy to monitor colorectal health:

Stool-based test recommendations include:

  • Highly sensitive fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year, or
  • highly sensitive guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) every year, or
  • multi-targeted stool DNA test (MT-sDNA) every 3 years.

Visual exam recommendations of the colon and rectum include:

  • Colonoscopy every 10 years, or
  • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years, or
  • flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years.

If a person chooses to be screened with a test other than colonoscopy, any abnormal test result should be followed up with colonoscopy.

Thanks to early detection from these screenings, colon cancer incidence rates decreased by 4.1% from 2005 to 2009 in adults age 50 and older.

There are some differences between these tests to consider, but the most important thing is to get screened, no matter which test you choose. Talk to your local Capital Women’s Care team about which tests offer the best options for you.

Endometrial Cancer

Endometrial cancer affects the endometrium, the lining of the uterus. According to the ACS, endometrial cancer is projected to affect 65,620 U.S. women during 2020, or 8.7% of all cancers newly diagnosed in women.

Endometrial cancer risk increases with age. Hormone level changes such as taking estrogen without progesterone and taking tamoxifen for breast cancer treatment or to lower breast cancer risk can also increase endometrial cancer risk.

Early onset of menstrual periods, late menopause, infertility history or not bearing children may also increase risk.

Women with either personal or family history of hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC or Lynch syndrome) or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and those who are obese also have a higher risk of endometrial cancer. Additionally, women with breast cancer or ovarian cancer may also have greater endometrial cancer risk.

There are no screening tests or exams to find endometrial cancer early in women who are at average risk and exhibit no symptoms.

The ACS recommends that all women be informed of endometrial cancer risks and symptoms at onset of menopause.

ACS further states women should report any unusual discharge, spotting, or vaginal bleeding that is worsening, occurring between periods, or happening after menopause to their physician.

The ACS also recommends women who have or are likely to have hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC or Lynch syndrome) be offered yearly testing with an endometrial biopsy beginning at age 35.

Talk with your local Capital Women’s Care team about your endometrial cancer risk and about getting regular pelvic exams, as the Pap test is very good at finding cervical cancer and can discover some early endometrial cancers. It’s important to note the Pap test is not used as a screening tool for diagnosing or determining the presence of endometrial cancer.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer (lung and bronchus) will affect almost 113,000 U.S. women newly diagnosed with this type of cancer in 2020 as estimated by the ACS. It is most often caused by exposure to chemicals and other particles in the air. While smoking tobacco is the leading cause of lung cancer, not all who are diagnosed with lung cancer are smokers. Some may be former smokers while some have never smoked.

Not all lung cancers can be prevented; however, there are things you can do that might help lower your risk. If you don’t smoke, don’t start, and avoid breathing in other people’s smoke. If you or your loved ones smoke, call the American Cancer Society (ACS) at 1-800-227-2345 for help quitting.

The ACS recommends screening for certain people who are at higher risk for lung cancer, such as those exposed to environmental pollutants and chemicals.

If you are a current or former smoker age 55 to 74 years in good health, you might benefit from lung cancer screening via a yearly low-dose CT scan. Talk to your local Capital Women’s Care team about your lung cancer risk, how to quit smoking plus the possible benefits, limitations and potential effects of lung cancer screening and where you can be screened.

Cervical Cancer

The ACS estimates 13,800 new cases of cervical cancer within 2020 in the U.S. Chronic infection by certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most important risk factor concerning cervical cancer diagnosis.

You can get HPV through intimate skin-to-skin contact, such as having vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has HPV. Other risk factors for cervical cancer include smoking, a weakened immune system, a previous or current chlamydia infection, being overweight, being exposed to or taking certain hormone treatments and not having regular cervical cancer screening tests.

To cut your cervical cancer risk, avoid smoking and help protect yourself from HPV through using condoms.

The HPV vaccines can protect women against certain HPV infections linked to cervical cancer.

The ACS recommends routine HPV vaccination for girls and boys ages 9 to 12. Children and young adults age 13 through 26 who haven't been vaccinated, or who haven't received all their doses, should get the vaccine as soon as possible. Vaccination at the recommended ages will help prevent more cancers than vaccination occurring when older. If you are between ages 27 to 45, talk with your doctor to determine if HPV vaccination might be beneficial.

Having regular screening tests can help find changes in the cervix that can be treated before they become cancer. The tests used for cervical cancer screening are the HPV test and the Pap test. The HPV test looks for infections by HPV types which can cause precancers and cancers of the cervix. The Pap test looks at the cells taken from the cervix to find changes that might be cancer or precancer. Regular screening can help find cervical cancer early, offering best possible outcome and prognosis.

The American Cancer Society recommends the following for women who are at average risk for cervical cancer:

  • Cervical cancer testing should start at age 25. People under age 25 should not be tested.
  • Women between the ages of 25 and 65 should get a primary HPV test every 5 years. A primary HPV test is an HPV test done by itself for screening purposes. If you cannot get a primary HPV test, get a co-test (an HPV test with a Pap test) every 5 years or a Pap test completed every 3 years.
  • It is important to get screened regularly, no matter which type of test you receive.
  • Women over 65 who have had regular cervical cancer testing in the past 10 years with normal (or "negative") results should not be tested for cervical cancer. Your most recent test should be within the past 3 to 5 years.
  • Those with a history of serious cervical precancer should continue to be tested for at least 25 years after diagnosis, even if testing goes beyond age 65.
  • Women who have had a total hysterectomy (removal of both the uterus and cervix) should stop testing unless the surgery was done to treat cervical cancer or a serious precancer.
  • Those vaccinated against HPV should still follow screening recommendations for their age group.

Contact your local Capital Women’s Care team to discuss cervical cancer preventative care, tests and HPV vaccination.

Skin Cancer

ACS projects 43,070 new cases of skin cancer (excluding basal and squamous cell types) will have been diagnosed in U.S. women during last year. Anyone can get skin cancer, but people having fair skin are more likely to get skin cancer than those having darker skin. Most basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are caused by repeated and unprotected skin exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, plus man-made sources like tanning beds.

A type of skin cancer called melanoma is less common than other skin cancer types, but is more dangerous as it is more likely than other skin cancer types to grow and spread. ACS estimates 40,160 women in the U.S. were newly diagnosed with this type of skin cancer during 2020.

Those who have had other types of skin cancers and have a close family member diagnosed with melanoma face increased risk for developing melanoma.

You can lower your risk of most skin cancers through limiting exposure to UV rays from the sun and other sources like tanning beds and lamps. When outside, try to stay in the shade, especially during the middle of the day. If you’re outside, wear hats with brims, long-sleeve shirts, UV-blocking sunglasses and use broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of 30 SPF on all exposed skin, even on hazy days as UV rays are still present and can harm skin. If you have children, protect them from the sun and don’t let them get sunburn. Avoid using tanning beds or lamps.

Be aware of all moles and spots on your skin, and report any changes to your local Capital Women’s Care team right away. You should always request an annual skin exam during your regular yearly well health check-up.

Ovarian Cancer

The ACS projects 21,750 newly diagnosed cases of ovarian cancer in U.S. women occurring last year. Although ovarian cancer can occur at any age, it is more likely to occur as women get older.

Because ovarian cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms or has symptoms that tend to be associated with other issues, early detection is difficult. Ovarian cancer is most common in older women - about half of those diagnosed are age 63 or older.

Women who have never had children, or those who had their first child after age 35 may be at increased risk for this cancer.

Women who have used estrogen alone as hormone replacement therapy are also at increased risk.

Women with a personal or family history of hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC or Lynch Syndrome), ovarian cancer or breast cancer are more likely to have a higher risk for ovarian cancer.

However, women who don’t have any of these conditions or risk factors are still susceptible to ovarian cancer.

Unfortunately, there are no recommended cancer screening tests for ovarian cancer for women who are not at high risk of developing the disease. A Pap test doesn’t determine ovarian cancer, but a pelvic exam should be part of your regular well woman health exam.

There are also some tests that might be used in women who have symptoms or have a high risk of ovarian cancer.

Preventative surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes can decrease ovarian cancer risk dramatically.

You should see your physician right away if you have any of the following symptoms for more than a few weeks:

  • abdominal swelling with unintentional weight loss
  • digestive problems (including gas, loss of appetite and bloating)
  • abdominal and/or pelvic pain
  • feeling the need to urinate constantly.

Talk to your local Capital Women’s Care team about your personal risk for ovarian cancer and whether there are available tests that may be right for you.

Your local Capital Women’s Care team offers you comprehensive, preventative care and services, including screenings, tests and vaccinations, incorporated within your personal health plan to help you maintain and achieve optimal health and long, quality life.

Sources:

https://www.cancer.org/research/cancer-facts-statistics/all-cancer-facts...
https://www.aicr.org/
https://www.cancer.org/
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/cance...
https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/6-steps-to-help-lower-your-cancer-ris...
https://www.cancer.org/healthy/eat-healthy-get-active/acs-guidelines-nut...
https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics
Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes (nih.gov)
https://www.cancer.org/healthy/find-cancer-early/womens-health/cancer-fa...
https://www.cancer.org/healthy/find-cancer-early/cancer-screening-guidel...

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