Everything Women Need to Know About Cancer

Everything Women Need to Know About Cancer
Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells grow, divide, and spread. In most cancers, these abnormal cells form a mass called a tumor. (Not all tumors are cancer.) Most cancers are named for where they start. For example, lung cancer starts in the lung, and breast cancer starts in the breast. But cancers can spread. They can invade nearby tissues and organs. Or, they can break away and spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms and treatment depend on the cancer type and how advanced it is.

Cancer symptoms

At first, cancer may not produce any symptoms. As a tumor grows, you may feel discomfort or pain at the tumor site, abnormal bleeding, fatigue, and weight loss. Other symptoms may depend on the location of cancer.

Cancer screening

Depending on your age and risk factors, you should be screened for some cancers. This is important even if you feel healthy. Screening can allow your doctor to find and remove abnormal cells before they turn into cancer. These tests can also detect cancer early before you feel any symptoms.
Screening is not recommended for all women or for all types of cancer. Screening tests are not completely accurate, and they can harm. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and harms of commonly used screening tests. Tests may produce false-positive results, meaning they may show you have cancer when you don’t.
This can cause worry and unneeded medical procedures. Tests may also produce false-negative results that miss cancer. Your doctor will need to do more tests to confirm the results.
Your primary care doctor may also refer you to an oncologist for more tests. An oncologist is a doctor who specializes in cancer. The chart below lists the screenings recommended for women with average risk for some common cancers. If you think you may have higher than average risk, talk to your doctor about your risk factors. You may need additional tests.

Breast cancer

You should be screened for breast cancer on the following schedule:
• In your 20s and 30s, you should have a clinical breast exam every 3 years. After you turn 40, you should have a clinical breast exam every year.
• Starting at age 40, you should have mammograms (an x-ray examination of the breasts) every 1 to 2 years.
• At any age, you should be familiar with the normal feel and appearance of your breasts. Report any changes to your doctor right way.
Discuss breast cancer risk with your doctor. If you are at higher risk, you may need mammograms at an earlier age. You may also need more frequent exams or additional tests.

Cervical cancer

Beginning 3 years after the start of sexual activity or at age 21, you should have a Pap test each year. A Pap test is a microscopic examination of cells taken from the cervix. After three normal tests, you only need to be tested every 3 years.If you are older than age 65 and have had three normal tests, you may choose to stop being testing. If you have had your cervix removed as part of a hysterectomy, you do not need to be screened (unless the hysterectomy was performed to treat cancer).

Colorectal cancer

Beginning at age 50, you should be screened for colorectal cancer on one of the following schedules.
• You may have a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) (a test that checks for blood in the stool) once each year.
• Flexible sigmoidoscopy (examination of the lower colon) may be performed once every 5 years.
• FOBT each year may be combined with flexible sigmoidoscopy once every 5 years.
• You may have a colonoscopy (examination of the colon) every 10 years.
• Computed tomography (tuh-MOG-ruh-fee) (CT) scans of the colon (“virtual colonoscopy”) is used at some medical centers for screening.
Talk to your doctor about which type of testing is best for you. If you are at high risk of colon cancer, your doctor may recommend additional testing.


Once a tumor is found, your doctor will collect a tissue sample. This procedure is called a biopsy. Your doctor will examine the tissue to find out whether it is cancer. More tests may be needed to determine cancer’s stage or how advanced it is. The stage is based on the location and size of a tumor and whether cancer has spread. At earlier stages, cancer is easier to treat.

Cancer treatment

After diagnosing and staging cancer, your doctor will discuss cancer treatment with you. Treatments may include measures aimed at curing cancer and therapies that ease symptoms and improve the quality of life.
Depending on the type of cancer and its stage, doctors may recommend one or more of the treatments below.
Surgery alone may be able to remove cancer if it has not spread beyond the tissues where it began. Surgery may also be combined with other treatments.
Chemotherapy, or chemo, uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. It may cure cancer, prevent it from growing or spreading, or relieve symptoms. Chemo may also harm healthy cells. This causes side effects such as fatigue, nausea, hair loss, weight loss, and anemia (uh-NEE-mee-uh).
Radiation therapy targets cancer cells with a type of energy called ionizing radiation. It may destroy a tumor or shrink it, and it may harm healthy cells near the area being treated.
Biological therapy stimulates the body’s immune system to fight cancer. It may also ease the side effects of other cancer treatments.
Hormone therapy may be used to treat breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers. Female hormones help these cancers grow. Hormone therapy reduces or blocks the effect of these hormones.
Scientists are working to improve existing treatments to target cancer cells without damaging healthy cells. New types of treatment include gene therapy (changing the genetic material in cells) and vaccines. These treatments may be used to treat some cancers in the future.

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