If there is one disease that the whole world fears the most, it is cancer. Affecting various parts of the body and internal organs, cancer is rarely permanently cured. Most often, the causes of cancers are linked to family medical history, lifestyle, or environmental factors.
Reports from the American Cancer Society reveals that over 852,600 women are expected to be diagnosed with some form of cancer in 2017 and approximately 282,500 women are expected to die from the disease.1 Often, knowing the enemy helps in fighting the enemy.
While we have no control over factors such as family history or the environment, we can make some positive changes by adopting a healthy lifestyle and diet, regular exercises, and by giving up certain habits that are known to contribute to cancer.
So, if you know the problem, you can take evasive measures that can help prevent the deadly disease. Here are the factors that may increase your risk of developing the most common types of cancers in women and precautionary measures you can take to reduce that risk.
1. Breast Cancer
Statistics show that breast cancer accounts for 30 percent of female cancer cases and 14 percent of the 282,500 female cancer deaths estimated for 2017.2 The chances of a woman developing breast cancer are 1 in 8.
Although there is no sure-shot method to prevent breast cancer, as many risk factors are beyond our control, awareness of the most common risk factors mentioned here can help.
- Being a woman: Breast cancer is almost 100 times more common in women than in men.
- Age: Two-thirds of women with invasive breast cancer are 55 or older.
- Family history: Breast cancer occurring in your mother, sister, or daughter doubles your risk and if two immediate relatives have breast cancer, it triples your risk.
- Genes: 5-10 percent of breast cancers are thought to be caused by specific gene mutations that are hereditary.
- Race: While African-American women are less vulnerable to breast cancer than white women, African-American women are more likely to die from breast cancer, partly because their tumors may grow faster and show up at a more advanced stage.
- Dense breast tissue: A more fibrous and glandular tissue rather than more fatty tissue can double breast cancer risk and makes detection on a mammogram more difficult.
- Previous radiation treatment to the chest: Previous treatment for another cancer increases the risk of breast cancer, especially if they were treated when their breasts were still developing.
- Menstruation: The onset of menstruation before age 12 or onset of menopause after age 55 slightly increases the risk.
- Pregnancy: No pregnancies or a late first pregnancy, especially after age 30, may slightly increase overall risk.
- Birth control pills: Though birth control pills may minimally contribute to the risk, the level of risk usually reverts to normal 10 years after a woman stops taking the pill.
- Certain medications: Past treatment with diethylstilbestrol (DES), a drug once used to prevent miscarriage, slightly increases the risk.
- Post-menopausal hormone therapy: This treatment sometimes raises your risk of breast cancer.
- Breastfeeding: Not breastfeeding may slightly increase breast cancer risk.
- Overweight: Being overweight, especially after menopause, increases the risk.
- Lack of exercise: Low physical activity can increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Alcohol: Women who are heavy drinkers have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Red meat: Consumption of red meat may be linked to breast cancer, while white meat and seafood are considered safe.
2. Lung And Bronchus Cancer
Around 12 percent of female cancer cases are from lung and bronchus cancers and is estimated to cause 25 percent of female cancer deaths in 2017.3 One in 17 women is vulnerable to lung and bronchus cancer.
Although breast cancer is more common among women, lung cancer causes more deaths. Smoking is the main cause of this type of cancer and 80 percent of all lung cancers in women can be avoided by simply not smoking.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smokers have 15-30 times more chances of developing or dying from lung cancer than non-smokers.4 Apart from smoking and a family history of this cancer, other factors include,
- Secondhand smoke
- Inhaling radon gas
- Exposure to asbestos
- Arsenic (inhaled or consumed through drinking water)
- Diesel exhaust
- Air pollution
While regular exercise and a healthy diet help lower the risk, reducing alcohol consumption also plays a critical role. Even if you have quit smoking, experts suggest that you get a specialized low-dose CT scan of your chest annually to observe any signs of the disease.
3. Colon And Rectal Cancer
Colon and rectal cancers are responsible for 8 percent of all cancer cases and 8 percent of female cancer deaths.5 The odds of a woman contracting colon or rectal cancer are 1 in 24.
While this type of cancer may occur in young adults and teenagers, most cases are diagnosed in adults above 50 years. As per the American Society for Clinical Oncology, the average age at which women are diagnosed with colon cancer is 72.6 Apart from the age factor, other common risk factors include,
- Family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- Type 2 diabetes
- Inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- Being overweight or obese
- Lack of physical activity
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Diet (high in red or processed meat or low in fruits and vegetables)
Early detection is the best approach for effective treatment. Since it generally takes 10-15 years for abnormal cells to grow in the colon, performing regular colonoscopy screening tests to identify polyps and removing them in time helps you avoid some severe consequences.
Present guidelines recommend a colonoscopy at age 50. Research has shown that ample calcium intake through diet or a supplement is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancers.7
4. Uterine Cancer
Uterine cancer is responsible for 7 percent of all cancer cases, and 4 percent of female cancer deaths.8 The chances of a woman developing uterine cancer are 1 in 36.
Uterine cancer (endometrial cancer) is the most common type of cancer that affects the female reproductive organs. Going by statistics, it is more prevalent than cervical cancer or ovarian cancers. Unlike cervical cancer, it’s not one of the gynecological cancers caused by HPV.9
Hormonal changes, especially related to estrogen, is a huge factor in your risk for uterine cancer. Just like breast cancer, uterine cancer cells also can thrive on estrogen. Various factors that can affect hormone levels and increase uterine cancer risk include,
- Taking estrogen after menopause
- Birth control pills
- Higher number of menstrual cycles (over a lifetime)
- Past or present use of tamoxifen for breast cancer
- Not getting pregnant
- Ovarian tumors or polycystic ovarian syndrome
- High-fat or high-calorie diet
- Family history of uterine cancer or colon cancer
- Personal history of breast or ovarian cancer
- Endometrial hyperplasia, a thickening of the uterine lining
Studies have shown that using a non-hormonal intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control can help in reducing the risk of uterine cancer.10
5. Thyroid Cancer
Statistics reveal that thyroid cancer will account for 5 percent of all cancer cases and 3 percent of all deaths in 2017.11 One in 57 women may contract thyroid cancer.
The American Cancer Society suggests that many of the risk factors for thyroid cancer are beyond our control. But, being aware of the risk factors can help you undergo the appropriate diagnosis and in the timely treatment of potential tumors. Some common factors that raise thyroid cancer risk include,
- Being female
- Age (women are generally diagnosed during their 40s or 50s)
- Family history of medullary thyroid cancer, other thyroid cancers, familial adenomatous polyposis, Cowden disease, or Carney complex type I
- Some genetic mutations (RET gene)
- Exposure to radiation
- A low-iodine diet
Now that you are aware of the risk factors, modify your lifestyle accordingly. Remember, the earlier you start, the better for your health!
|↑1, ↑2, ↑3, ↑5, ↑8, ↑11||Cancer Facts and Figures. American Cancer Society. 2017.|
|↑4||What Are the Risk Factors for Lung Cancer? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2017.|
|↑6||Colorectal Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention. American Society for Clinical Oncology. 2017.|
|↑7||Calcium and Cancer Prevention. National Cancer Institute. 2009.|
|↑9||HPV and Cancer. National Cancer Institute. 2015.|
|↑10||Benshushan, Abraham, Ora Paltiel, Nathan Rojansky, Amnon Brzezinski, and Neri Laufer. “IUD use and the risk of endometrial cancer.” European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology 105, no. 2 (2002): 166-169.|