Understanding the risk factors associated with these five cancers is the first step to take in minimizing your personal risk.
A cancer diagnosis can often be directly linked to your family medical history, your lifestyle choices, and your environment. You can’t control your family medical history and only some aspects of your environment are up to you. But lifestyle choices like diet, weight, activity level and smoking are yours to manage.
“Preventive measures are so heavily underutilized by people. And yet they work. Everything in moderation really works,” says Richard R. Barakat, MD, chief of the gynecology service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
While the overall odds are that two out of three women will never get cancer, 700,000 women were diagnosed with cancer in 2008 (the most recent year for which CDC data is available), most with one of the following types:
–Breast cancer accounted for 26 percent of female cancer cases and 15 percent of the 272,000 female cancer deaths that year. A woman’s odds of getting this cancer: 1 in 8
–Lung and bronchus cancers accounted for 14 percent of female cancer cases and 26 percent of all deaths. A woman’s odds of getting this cancer: 1 in 16
–Colon and rectal cancers accounted for 10 percent of all cancer cases and 9 percent of all deaths. A woman’s odds of getting this cancer: 1 in 19
–Uterine cancer accounted for 6 percent of all cancer cases, and 3 percent of all deaths. A woman’s odds of getting this cancer: 1 in 41
–Non-Hodgkin lymphoma accounted for 4 percent of all cancer cases and 3 percent of all deaths. A woman’s odds of getting this cancer: 1 in 53
As you learn about the common risk factors for each of these cancers, you can take steps to correct the ones within your control.
Breast Cancer Risks
Risk factors for breast cancer, the most common cancer among women, include:
-Age: Two of three women with invasive breast cancer are 55 or older.
-Family history: Your risk is doubled if your mother, sister, or daughter has had it.
-Race: White women are more susceptible than African-Americans, although African-American women are more likely to die from breast cancer, partly because their tumors may grow faster.
–Dense breast tissue
–Previous radiation treatment to the chest
–A greater than average number of menstrual periods (starting before age 12, reaching menopause after age 55)
–No pregnancies, or having your first pregnancy after the age of 30
–Taking birth control pills: The level of risk goes back to normal 10 years after stopping the pill.
–Past treatment with the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES), once used to prevent miscarriage
–Post-menopausal hormone therapy: Avoiding this treatment decreases your risk of breast cancer.
–Being overweight and having a high-fat diet
–Lack of exercise
–Drinking heavily: University of Oxford researchers who studied 1.3 million women over a seven-year period found that moderate drinking — as few as one to three drinks per week — puts you at higher risk for breast cancer.
Lung and Bronchus Cancer Risks
A look at the percentages of deaths among people diagnosed with this form of cancer shows just how deadly lung cancer is, at close to the reverse of breast cancer statistics. Most striking is our ability to lower those numbers: 80 percent of all lung cancers in women (and 90 percent in men) might be avoided if people didn’t smoke; smokers are 10 to 20 times more likely to get lung cancer than nonsmokers.
Family history also plays a part. Other risk factors include exposure to:
Besides following an exercise plan and a healthy diet, limiting your alcohol intake can also help keep lung cancer at bay.
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