A cancer diagnosis is often linked to family medical history, lifestyle choices, or something in the environment. And while you can’t control your family history or your whole environment; healthy lifestyle habits such as a good diet, regular physical activity, weight control, and quitting smoking are all well within your control. Cancer has a potential to not just affect your physical health but also mess with your and your family’s mental wellness. Women, with the immense responsibilities relying on their shoulders, are much more prone to certain types of cancer, and among these most common types found in women are breast, thyroid, cervical, and ovarian cancers. Educating yourself about these cancers (when they’re still at an initial stage, haven’t spread, and are potentially easier to treat) can be a life-saver for you and those you care about.
1. Breast Cancer
In this modern environment, breast cancer is the most common cancer type in women. It occurs when abnormal cells in the breast grow rapidly and form a lump or a mass, often without causing any symptoms. The majority of breast cancers are hormone-sensitive, which means they grow and spread more quickly when estrogen is present. However, some breast cancers are estrogen insensitive, meaning they don’t grow or spread as fast when estrogen is present. It can attack either one or both breasts’ tissues.
Any woman can be diagnosed with this condition. But women with a family history of breast cancer on their maternal side have a higher risk and they should get regular checkups. Breast cancer is a treatable disease with a better chance of survival if detected early. Breast cancer has ranked number one cancer among Indian females with age adjusted rate as high as 25.8 per 100,000 women and mortality 12.7 per 100,000 women. [2019 statistics]
Factors causing Breast Cancer:
- Age (most often diagnosed in 40’s and 50’s)
- Family history of breast cancer
- Dense breast tissues
- Unhealthy lifestyle
- Birth control pills
2. Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women. It is the second most common cancer in women who have uteruses. The cervix, also known as the womb’s neck, is a narrow part of the lower uterus that connects the uterus to the vagina. Cervical cancer develops when abnormal cells in the cervix grow and cause problems such as bleeding and pain. These cells may or may not contain cancer cells.
The majority of cervical cancer cases are linked to infection with the high-risk Human Papillomavirus (HPV). If HPV is left untreated for too long, cervical cancer can develop. In India, cervical cancer contributes to approximately 6–29% of all cancers in women. The age-adjusted incidence rate of cervical cancer varies widely among registries; the highest is 23.07/per 100,000 in Mizoram state. [2010 Statistics]
Factors causing Cervical Cancer:
- HPV virus
- A weakened immune system
- Having many sexual partners
- Birth control pills (long-term use)
- Other STD’s
3. Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer is a rare cancer that affects the thyroid gland, a small gland that produces hormones at the base of the neck. People in their 30s and over 60 are the most likely to develop it. Women are 2 to 3 times more likely than men to develop it. Hormones made by your thyroid, control your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and weight.
Thyroid cancer may not show any signs or symptoms at first. However, as it grows, it can cause neck pain and swelling. Over a decade, the incidence rate of thyroid cancer in India in women increased from 2.4 (95% confidence interval (CI) 2.2-2.7) to 3.9 (95%CI 3.6-4.2). [2018 Statistics]. Thyroid cancer appears to be on the rise now. Some doctors believe this is because new technology allows them to detect small thyroid cancers that were previously undetectable.
Factors that can cause Thyroid cancer:
- Age factor (most often diagnosed in 40’s and 50’s)
- Low iodine diet
- Family history of thyroid cancer
- Exposure to harmful radiation
4. Ovarian Cancer
The ovaries are an essential part of a woman’s reproductive system. They are responsible for producing a woman’s eggs as well as certain female hormones. The size and shape of each ovary is similar to that of an almond. Ovarian cancer is an abnormal development of cells in the ovaries. The cells reproduce rapidly and have the ability to infiltrate and damage healthy body tissue. Two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus, make up the female reproductive system. Each ovary produces eggs (ova) as well as estrogen and progesterone hormones.
Ovarian cancer is the third leading site of cancer among women, after cervix and breast cancer. The age-adjusted incidence rates of ovarian cancer vary between 5.4 and 8.0 per 100,000 population in different parts of the country. Surgery and chemotherapy are generally used to treat ovarian cancer.
Factors that can increase your risk of ovarian cancer include:
- Older age
- Family history of ovarian cancer
- Inherited gene changes
- Postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy
What you can do
According to the World Health Organization, cancer is the greatest cause of death worldwide, but there is a little hope—around one-third of cases can be prevented. There is no magic drug that can prevent you from getting cancer, but there are various things you can do to improve your chances:
- DO NOT USE TOBACCO Tobacco use, in any form, puts you on a collision path with cancer.
- EAT A HEALTHY DIET Making smart choices at the grocery store and during meals won’t ensure cancer prevention, but it will decrease your risk.
- BE PHYSICALLY ACTIVE TO MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT Maintaining a healthy weight may help to reduce the risk of various cancers. Physical activity is also important.
- GET REGULAR MEDICAL CARE Regular self-exams and screenings for cancers of the skin, cervix, and breast, for example, can improve your chances of detecting cancer early, when treatment is most likely to be effective.
What we know about cancer prevention is constantly in progress. However, it’s widely acknowledged that your lifestyle choices have a great impact on your risk of developing cancer.