Cancer and The Female Body: Who’s at Risk?
There are some cancers that most often affect women more than men. Knowing about them and what the risk factors are, how to treat them accordingly, and preventative measures to take go a long way in mitigating the negative outcomes associated with each. Breast cancer, ovarian cancer, cancer of the uterus, and cervix — these are the most commonly diagnosed in women and early detection and treatment might help save a life.
What is Cancer?
Defined as a disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue, cancer can quickly grow out of control if the patient doesn’t seek healing and treatment. Of the many 200 different types of cancer, it’s possible that any form can eventually spread to other tissues within the body, which is why an understanding of the female system and her hormones will go a long way towards recovery. As the second-leading cause of death in the world, there have been significant improvements in survival rates for different types of cancer, alongside advancements in cancer screenings, treatments, and prevention.
The genetic changes that enhance cancer risk in women can be traced to specific genes that are associated with causing cancer. Experts are discovering new ways in how changes in a woman’s genes can greatly affect her health and develop a risk for cancer. Scientists have detected almost 11 genetic changes and the genes responsible for creating risks in women, such as:
- BRCA gene mutations
- DNA mismatch repair genes
- TP53 gene mutations
- HER2 gene mutations
There are several more gene mutations that can be added to the above list, however, focusing more on the female body and the risk factors associated with cancers that afflict her gender is shown through genes that can be mutated in a number of different ways. It’s important to note that the simplest type of gene mutation can be linked to a change in the female’s DNA that embodies the gene, as it can instruct a healthy cell to allow rapid growth, fails to stop uncontrolled cell growth and makes errors when repairing DNA mistakes. A mutation in a DNA repair gene means that other errors aren’t corrected, which leads cells to become cancerous.
Cancer’s Most Common Symptoms
Depending on what part of the female body is affected, here are some general signs and symptoms that cancer cells may be forming:
- Persistent fatigue
- A lump or thickening of the area detected under the skin
- Significant weight changes
- Indigestion or persistent discomfort after eating
- Unexplained muscle or joint pain
- Bleeding or bruising without a noticeable cause
- Fevers and night sweats that aren’t related to menopause
- Noticeable changes in bladder or bowel habits
If any of the above is a concern, it’s vital to see your primary care physician right away. Noticeable signs or symptoms of cancer can creep up when least expected, which is why discussing all concerns with your doctor is important. Even if you have a cancer-related background history, some screenings and tests might be valuable to know whether the symptoms you experience are precursors to the cancers that the female body is more likely to get.
Cancer of the Uterus
Often referred to as endometrial cancer, this type of cancer of a female’s inner lining of the uterus increases as women age. Since there are no early detection screenings for uterine cancer, women who enter menopause are advised about the symptoms and risks as hormone levels change. Taking estrogen without progesterone and taking medication for breast cancer treatment can elevate a woman’s risk of developing endometrial cancer. Other risks are having early periods in childhood, experiencing late menopause, a history of infertility, or never going through childbirth.
Cancer of the Cervix
Cervical cancer can be associated with a chronic infection of specific types of HPV– human papillomavirus. A woman can contract HPV through intimate sexual relations involving vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. There are other risk factors associated with cervical cancer including smoking, a weakened immune system, obesity, taking certain hormone treatments, and never having regular cervical cancer screening tests. Condoms help females who are in skin-to-skin contact with an HPV-infected male.
Cancer of the Ovaries
Ovarian cancer typically afflicts older women and those who have never had children. Oftentimes, women who had their first child after age 35 are also at an increased risk, as well as women who have used hormone replacement therapy. Ovarian cancer can affect the female body with a personal or family history of other cancers such as breast and colorectal, however, some women who don’t have any of these precursors are still at risk for ovarian cancer. Getting a proper checkup helps early detection for an older woman.
Therapy for Cancer
Personalized treatment plans are recommended as a cancer diagnosis can be very stressful for a woman. Receiving comprehensive care from a compassionate team of doctors who have dedicated their life’s work to helping women overcome cancer is precisely what females need. Following are therapy treatments in the event a cancer diagnosis returns positive:
1. Chemotherapy — An invasive drug treatment that stops the formation of growing cancer cells.
2. Hormone Replacement Therapy — Prescribed by your doctor, HRT interferes with the growth of certain hormones that aid in a cancer cell’s growth. May be used alone or in combination with other aggressive treatments.
3. Immunotherapy — A medication that signals the body’s own immune system to fight off cancer cells.
4. Surgery — Always used as a last resort, however, depending on the type of cancer, surgery is necessary to remove the tumor or perform a radical hysterectomy. Hrt and hysterectomy are often mentioned together, cause of the faster regeneration process. In the case of the latter, the surgeon removes the uterus, cervix and a small portion of the vagina, and the result is a woman will not be able to have children, yet she can continue to experience sexual pleasure.
Risk Factors and Recommendations
For hormonal replacement therapy, there are risks involved, including:
- Heart disease
- Blood clots
These serious conditions depend on a woman’s age, the type of hormone therapy her doctor prescribes, and her health history. The recommendations are to choose the best therapy that’s right for you, minimize the amount of medications you take that could interfere with the HRT-prescribed doses by your doctor, seek regular follow-up care, and change your lifestyle to reflect a more healthy and nutritious wellness protocol.
The female body is a complicated and beautiful network of muscles, tissues, organs, joints, and ligaments. Every year, it’s imperative that a woman — no matter the age — schedules a thorough physical exam to determine any malformities in her body. If there are any signs or symptoms that seem ‘off’ and persistent, go see a professional physician right away. Cancer cells can grow in an older woman’s body without early detection, therefore to ward off breast, uterine, ovarian, and cervical cancer get a proper screening and have your doctor run some tests.
Better safe than sorry, especially if you want to be able to enjoy a long and healthy life with your children and grandchildren.