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Cancer in Women

Certain cancers are of specific concern to women. These include not only cancer of the female organs, such as the breast, cervix, womb (uterus), and ovary; but also of the pancreas, large bowel (colorectal cancer), and lung.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women. In the U.S., a woman has a 12.4% chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. Research studies show that the smaller the breast cancer is when it is detected, the greater the chance of survival. Currently, mammography and breast examinations serve as the recommended screening tests for breast cancer. The discovery of inherited gene mutations permits the identification of at least some women at increased risk for developing breast cancer.

Cancer involving the ovaries is also referred to as ovarian cancer. Because ovarian cancer is very difficult to detect in its early stages, it is often referred to as the “silent killer.” Although ovarian cancer can occur at any age, a woman’s risk gradually increases over time, and it is significantly higher if there is a history of ovarian cancer in the family. One in every 70 females in the U.S. develops ovarian cancer.

Colorectal cancer is cancer of the large intestine. Most cases of colorectal cancer occur in people over 50 years of age. A woman with a history of cancer of the breast, uterus, or ovary has an increased risk for colorectal cancer. Regular screening is recommended for all women over 50 years of age. Research studies show that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, as well as supplementing the diet with antioxidants may help reduce a woman’s risk of developing not only colorectal cancer but a number of other cancers as well.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women. As smoking is the primary cause of lung cancer, it should be obvious that abstinence from smoking is a significant way to avoid this dreaded disease. Smoking cessation is essential in minimizing the damage already caused by smoking and optimizing long-term health.

Serious Diseases More Common in Women

Many diseases affect both women and men, but some diseases occur at a higher frequency in women. For example, gallstones are three to four times more common in women than in men. About 18% of women in the U.S. suffer migraine headaches compared with only 6% of men, a ratio of three to one females to males. Other conditions seen more often in women than in men include irritable bowel syndrome and urinary tract infections.

Urinary tract infections, including cystitis (bladder infection) and kidney infection (pyelonephritis), are significant health problems that more frequently affect women. Kidney disease is a leading cause of high blood pressure (hypertension) and after age 50, hypertension is more common in women than in men.

Also more common in women than men are the autoimmune disorders (for example, multiple sclerosis, Sjögren’s syndrome, and lupus). In these diseases, the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues. Autoimmune disorders afflict at least 12 million Americans and 3/4 of them are women. One autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, affects approximately 1.3 million Americans, with 2/3 of the sufferers being women.

Osteoporosis, a condition in which bone density decreases, occurs in both men and women. Overall, however, it is more of a major health concern for women. Some studies have reported that as many as one of every two women over 50 will suffer a fracture related to osteoporosis during her lifetime. By age 65, some women have lost half of their skeletal mass. A woman’s doctor can assess her bone density and make recommendations as to how to prevent further bone loss.