Reclaiming Intimacy: Cancer Facts & Tips for Women

Knowledge is power, even when dealing with heavy medical news and diagnoses. The more you know about a topic or specific type of cancer or illness, the stronger you will be if and when you are forced to fight for your life. The most frequently diagnosed cancers in women are colon, breast, endometrial, lung, skin, cervical, and ovarian cancers. Of course, other types of cancers do exist and do occur, but these are the most commonly diagnosed. Here you will find information about each type of cancer, certain things you can do to be present and aware with screenings and testing, and how to take control of your health to prevent your risk factors from increasing.

Common Ways to Take Control of Your Health and Life to Reduce the Risk of Cancer

  • Have regular physical check-ups and cancer screenings with your primary care physician.
  • Be aware of your family history, understand yourself, and know your personal risk levels.
  • Protect your skin from damaging sun rays and ultraviolet rays.
  • Consider limiting your alcohol intake or ceasing drinking alcohol and spirits at all.
  • Eat a healthy diet filled with fresh vegetables, fruits, and only organic meats if you choose to eat them. Ensure your diet has a rainbow of colors.
  • Get up and get out! Go for a walk and get some fresh air! Get enough physical activity per day to get your heart rate up and going. Exercise and activity are just what a healthy body ordered!
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Fluctuating weight can be a sign of an underlying condition. Consider reaching out to your doctor if you have attempted to lose weight in the past without much luck. Consider the same if you are trying to gain weight or cannot seem to keep the pounds on.
  • Avoid tobacco at all costs. If you are a smoker, consider making smoking cessation your number one health goal for the year. Smoking is the root cause for so many life-changing, life ending diseases and illnesses.

Colon Cancer

This type of cancer is most often found in the colon, anal or rectal areas. Those most often diagnosed with any form of colon cancer are those who have a family history, polyps (removed or left inside) during colon screenings, those with inflammatory bowel disease, those who are overweight and eat foods with high fat and grease contents, and those that lead sedentary lifestyles with a little exercise.

What can I do to lower my risk?

Screening and pretesting is key in early detection and diagnosis of colon cancer. Colon cancer is usually diagnosed after finding and completing a biopsy on polyps found during colonoscopies or abdominal imaging. Pre-cancerous polyps can be removed before they turn in to cancer when these pre-screenings are done regularly. Most doctors now follow the age guidelines of forty-five to begin colon screening for most humans with a normal risk of colon cancer. Those who are over seventy-five should discuss with their doctors how often they should be re-screened for polyps and colon issues. If you are at high risk for colon cancer, your doctors will determine the best plan for your screenings and how to keep you cancer free. There are two types of tests that are commonly used to detect issues in the stool which can signify colon cancer. With any abnormal test result, a colonoscopy should follow for for-sure diagnosis.

Stool-Based Tests

The most commonly used stool-based tests are the yearly fecal immunochemical test, also called the ‘FIT;’ the yearly guaiac-based fecal occult blood test, or ‘gFOBT;’ and the multi-targeted stool DNA test, called the MT-DNA test, which is usually done every three years.

Visual Exams of the Colon and Rectum

Your doctor may prescribe a colonoscopy every ten years, or more frequently if your risk factors are high. A CT colonography, which could be described as a virtual colonoscopy, will be done once every five years, and flexible sigmoidoscopy is also done approximately every five years.

Endometrial Cancer

This type of cancer, endometrial, is cancer in the lining of the uterus and is diagnosed most often in women over the age of fifty-five. Risk factors increase with the early onset of the menstrual cycle, late menopause, history of infertility, and not having children. Those women who have a history of specific types of non-polyposis colon cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome, or those who are overweight in the obese category are also more likely to be stricken with endometrial cancer.

What can I do to lower my risk?

At the onset of menopause, all women should be educated on the symptoms and signs of this form of cancer. For women with a higher risk factor, yearly biopsies can be done to determine changes in the cells of the uterine lining. Spotting or unusual bleeding after the onset of menopause can be a tell-tale sign and should be mentioned to your doctor post haste.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is now the most common cancer that women will be faced with in their lifetime and can occur at any age and at any time. Risk factors are different for every woman and every woman should be made aware of the symptoms and signs of this type of cancer. To read up on breast cancer signs and symptoms look for our special article covering the topic.

What can I do to lower my risk?

Early detection is key in finding, treating, removing and getting back to living after being diagnosed with cancer. Women should know their breasts and be doing self-check breast examinations at least once a month. Many women choose to do this with their cycle and continue to do the self-checks even after their cycles have ended and menopause has begun. Stick with the routine you are comfortable with. There are recommendations for different age groups for screening tests and they are as follows:

  • Women ages forty to forty-four (40 to 44) should begin annual breast cancer screening using mammogram technology if they choose to.
  • Women ages forty-five to fifty-four should get a mammogram every year without question.
  • Women over fifty-five should change to a bi-yearly mammogram, or if risk demands, continue with the yearly screening.

There are potential risk factors with certain types of breast cancer screening tools which women should be aware of as well. Some women are at a higher risk for breast cancer due to their genetics and family history. These women might also be screened with an MRI and the mammogram. If you are unsure of which group you fall in to, talk with your health care provider to determine the best screening for your situation and needs.

Cervical Cancer

This type of cancer affects any woman who has been or is currently sexually active. Being sexually active means engaging in intercourse or sexual activity where bodily fluids are exchanged. It occurs in women who have had the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which is passed during sexual intercourse. Cervical cancer is more likely in women who smoke, have HIV or AIDS, poor nutrition, and those who do not receive regular check-ups.

What can I do to lower my risk?

  • At the age of 21, women should begin being screened for cervical cancer. Or at the age when the woman begins being sexually active.
  • Between the ages of 21 and 29, women should have a PAP smear test done at least every third year. There are now tests for HPV, which would not be needed unless there was an abnormal PAP test.
  • Between the ages of 30 and 65, women should have a PAP smear test and HPV test done every five years unless the risk factors deem the screenings done more frequently.
  • Over the age of 65, women who have maintained their vaginal health and had regular, normal PAP test results can stop testing for cervical cancer.
  • Any woman diagnosed with cervical pre-cancer should continue to be tested yearly for the next twenty-plus years, even if that is past the age of 65.
  • Any women who has had a total hysterectomy for any reason not related to cervical cancer who has had no history of cervical cancer or pre-cancer should not be tested.
  • Those women vaccinated against the HPV virus should follow all screening guidelines regardless of the vaccination. Some women, due to their history, may need to be tested earlier, and more frequently.

If you are unsure of which group you fall in to, schedule a discussion with your doctor about your specific risk factors, and the types of screenings that would be most beneficial for your situation.

Skin Cancer

If you spend time outdoors and, in the sun, you are at risk for skin cancer. Those with fair skin with blonde or red hair are more likely than darker-haired, darker-skinned people to get this type of cancer. Those who have a close family member with melanoma and those who have had repeated bad sunburns as children are much more likely to develop this type of cancer as an adult.

What can I do to lower my risk?

Skin cancer is preventable by limiting all exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, rays from the sun and other sun-like sources. When outside, stay in the shade, wear sleeves and pants when you can, and avoid the sun in the middle of the day when it is at it’s hottest and strongest level. If you’re going to be out in the sun, plan accordingly. Wear SPF sunscreen and consider purchasing clothing with built-in SPF protection. Wear sunglasses and lip protection with at least an SPF of 30 or higher. Avoid tanning beds and long-term exposure to the sun. Sun tans are not all they are cracked up to be! Pay attention to all moles, skin tags, and spots on your skin. If there are any changes, report them to your health care provider immediately. Have skin exams done with every psychical check-up.

Lung Cancer

Over 80% of lung cancer deaths occur in patients who were smokers, further proving the damage done by tobacco. This type of cancer is most directly correlated to smoking; inhaling and exhaling tobacco and the chemicals wrapped up in each cigarette or cigar. Second-hand smoke has also been linked to lung cancer, so breathing the air of those still expelling or enjoying their lit cigarette is still capable of harming your own lungs! Ingesting these irritants are all increasing risk factors for this type of cancer.

What can I do to lower my risk?

If you are a smoker, quit! If you are not a smoker, do not start! If you are in public, avoid smoke-filled air and air with heavy pollutants. Screening for lung cancer is done by a low-dose CT scan, also called an ‘LDCT.’ If your doctor determines that you have a higher risk for lung cancer, other screening methods, such as biopsies and full-body scans may be ordered and done.

If you suspect you have one of these types of cancer, do not hesitate to contact your primary care physician, obstetrician, gynecologist, or any doctor you are comfortable with. Waiting could be the determining factor between life and death, so please be gentle with yourself and get the help and medical advice you need.

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