[Women and health] Knowledge is power: as a woman, know your risk of getting cancerSamara Mahindra
While 5 – 10 percent of cancers are caused be genes, the main reason for this emperor of all maladies is lifestyle choices. Before we go into detail about what kinds of cancers women are susceptible to, let’s understand what exactly cancer is. This knowledge would help you deal with and catch symptoms early on to seek immediate medical intervention.
To put it simply, cancer is an uncontrollable multiplication of abnormal cells that form a mass of tissue. This mass is commonly known as a tumor, which can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). Not all cancers are tumors, such as leukemia (cancer of the blood which usually begins in the bone marrow). It is important to know the signs and symptoms of cancer and get regular health check-ups done.
Women are susceptible to a range of cancers as highlighted by American Cancer Society, a voluntary health organisation established in 1913. The most common ones are listed below:
All women are at risk of breast cancer and as the risk of getting it increases with age. Breast cancer can be hereditary if its runs in the family, but its occurrence even in this case is not a given. It is imperative for all women to perform regular check-ups. The unfortunate case is that many women in India don’t even know how to perform a self-breast examination. It is important to do a self-examination once a month in search for any lumps. Post the age of 45, women must do mammograms on a yearly basis.
As the name suggests, it is cancer of the colon or large intestine and is mostly common in women who are 50 years and older. People who have had a family history of colon cancer, have polyps in the colon or rectum and a case of inflammatory bowel disease are all at risk of getting colon cancer. A colonoscopy is one of the common ways of testing for colon cancer.
Being a part of the digestive system, colon cancer can be very much controlled through a healthy diet and lifestyle. Eating foods mostly of fruits, vegetables, fiber and less animal fats along with maintaining a healthy weight through movement and exercise can help to a great extent.
This cancer resides in the lining of the uterus, occurring mostly in women 55 years and older. Early onset of menstruation, late menopause, hormonal therapy for breast cancer, family history and obesity can increase the risks of adopting the disease. Unusual bleeding and spotting must be reported to a healthcare practitioner for precaution.
Cancer of the cervix is primarily due to an HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), which is a sexually-transmitted virus and hence relevant only for those who are sexually active. The cancer is even more susceptible to those who smoke, have HIV/AIDS and poor nutrition. Pap smear is the screening test that detects the early rise of this cancer and must be done every three years.
Ovarian cancer occurs in older women and the risk of the disease increases in the following cases: unexplained infertility, women who not had children, or having children after 30 years of age. Although there is no definitive test for ovarian cancer, a pelvic examination during your regular health check-up must be done.
It is also important to be well aware of the symptoms and bring them up with your doctor if they persist for a few weeks.
- Abdominal swelling
- Feeling of needing to urinate constantly
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
- Digestive problems that include lack of appetite, gas or bloating.
Cancer can be controlled through a healthy lifestyle and strong immunity. It can also be cured if caught early. Cancer does not need to happen to everyone and now that it’s more lifestyle related, it’s in your hands. This information is not to scare you but instead enrich your knowledge about the disease, so you can make the right decisions for yourself. Knowledge is power when it comes to cancer, don’t be oblivious to a disease that you can catch.