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If "being a woman" could protect you from being sick, the world would surely be a better place, for women at least. But you will be surprised how exposed women are of getting some diseases, especially cancers.

It is important to know cancers in women are more than just the cancers of the female genital tract. In fact, the three most common cancers in women are not in the genital tract. Cancer remains the second most common cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 7.6 million deaths (around 13% of all deaths) in 2008.

About 30% of cancer deaths are due to these behavioral and dietary risks:

  • High body mass index
  • Low fruit and vegetable intake
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Tobacco use (Causes 22% of cancer death and 71% of global lung cancer deaths)
  • Alcohol use.

Cancer causing viral infections such as HBV/HCV and HPV are responsible for up to 20% of cancer deaths in low- and middle-income countries.

The three most common cancers in women are not located in the genital tract.

The Three Most Common Cancers in Women

Breast cancer

 Breast cancer is the cancer that forms in breast tissues. A lot of women know about breast cancer but they have no idea how it occurs and if they are at risk for having breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and the second most common cause of cancer death in women living in the United States. The risk for breast cancer is 13% in 2012 according to the American Cancer Society. The risk factors can be grouped into three categories.

Significantly higher risk

  • Personal history of cancer in one breast increases the chances of developing a new breast cancer by 3 folds.

Moderately higher risks include:

  • Age (77% of women diagnosed with breast cancer are over age 50, almost 50% are age 65 and older.)
  • Direct family history (having a first degree relative with breast cancer like your sister, mother, or daughter)
  • Genetics (Carriers of breast cancer genes – BRCA1 or BRCA2. You have an 85% chance of developing breast cancer if you have either of these genes)
  • Breast lesions (a personal history of breast biopsy results showing atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ)

Slightly higher risks include:

  • Distant family history
  • Previous breast biopsy with abnormal results
  • Early menarche
  • Increase age at childbirth ( Women that give birth to their first child after the age of 35)
  • Late menopause
  • Overweight
  • Presence of other cancer in the family.
  • Long term use of hormone replacement therapy
  • Alcohol use

In early stages of breast cancer, women usually have no symptoms. These symptoms show as the mass gets bigger. Symptoms/Signs of breast cancer include

  • Breast lump which can benign.
  • Pain in the breast. Most breast cancer lumps are painless but this does not exclude pain as a symptom.
  • Indentation on the breast
  • Size, texture, contour, and temperature changes of the breast.
  • Nipple discharge
  • Dimpling, retraction, ulceration, or itching of the nipple.

To increase the chances of early breast cancer detection, all women are recommended to perform a yearly mammogram once they reach age 35. If they have a family history of breast cancer (be it first degree or distant relatives), they should do the exam at 5-10 years earlier). Self-breast exams (SBEs) are also encouraged to detect any abnormal mass that could be present on the breast. SBEs should be implemented from puberty.

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