Women's Health

Cancer Facts- The Female Perspective

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Cancers that are common among women include

1. Breast cancer

This is the most common female cancer in Nigeria. There are several risk factors that put you at a high chance of getting the disease. Note that having these risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean you will have the disease, it just puts you at a risk.

These risk factors include increasing age (usually from age 30 but can occur at any age), a family history of breast cancer, starting menstruation at an earlier age (before 12 years), attaining menopause at an older age, having never been pregnant, having your first child at an older age, using post menopausal hormonal therapy, smoking, excessive alcohol intake.

What can I do to prevent Breast cancer?

  • Healthy lifestyle changes- quit smoking cigarettes, limit alcohol intake to the barest minimum, eat healthy, engage in regular exercises.
  • Examine your breasts- be familiar with your breasts including the shape and sizes. Check for lumps, any distortion, pain, colour changes, nipple discharge or bleeding, check your armpits for any swelling. Should you notice anything different, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
  • Screening methods are available for Breast cancer. Talk to your doctor who will advise you when to begin screening.

2.  Cervical cancer

chronic infection with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the most important risk factor for developing cancer of the cervix (the lower part of the womb that connects to the vagina).

The virus can be contracted through intimate skin to skin contact with someone who has the virus (vaginal, anal or oral sex).

Multiple sexual partners, early sexual activity, other sexually transmitted infections (Chlamydia, gonorrhea, Syphillis), weakened immune system ( e.g from HIV infection) are important risk factors for acquiring HPV. Smoking is also a risk factor for cervical cancer.

What can I do to prevent Cervical cancer?

  • Practice safe sex
  • Quit smoking
  • HPV vaccine- vaccination against the virus helps to reduce cervical cancer risk. Talk to your doctor to know if HPV vaccine is appropriate for you.
  • Regular Pap smear tests- This helps to detect early cancerous changes in the cervix. Talk to your doctor to know when Pap smear is appropriate for you.  

3. Ovarian cancer

The female reproductive system consists of various organs including two ovaries which produce eggs and hormones. Ovarian cancers are often difficult to treat because they often go undetected until when they have spread to other organs.

Risk factors include: older age, family history of ovarian or breast cancer, starting menstruation at an early age and attaining menopause at an older age.

Symptoms and signs to watch out for include abdominal bloating, weight loss, feeling full quickly when eating, discomfort around the pelvic area, feeling the need to urinate too frequently.

What can I do to prevent cancer of the ovaries?

  • Talk to your doctor. Your doctor will inform you of screening tests available.

4. Endometrial cancer

This is the cancer of the inner layer of the womb. This cancer usually occurs in women who have attained menopause. Risk factors include starting menstruation at an early age, attaining menopause late, having no children, obesity, family history of endometrial cancer or breast cancer.

What can I do to prevent Endometrial cancer?

Most risk factors for endometrial cancer are not modifiable, however, eating healthy, achieving a healthy weight may help lower the risk.

Also, talk to your doctor for screening tests available.

5. Colorectal cancer

cancer of the colon and rectum is also another cancer common in women. Risk factors include older age, being overweight or obese, sedentary lifestyle, diet high in red meat, processed and smoked foods, low fiber diet, smoking cigarettes, heavy alcohol intake, family history of colorectal cancer.

What can I do to prevent Colorectal cancer?

  • Avoid smoking cigarettes
  • Limit alcohol intake to the barest minimum
  • Eat healthy. Limit your intake of red meat or processed foods. Also, have a high fiber diet.
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Talk to your doctor for screening methods available for you.
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