Women’s Health Month: Spotlight on Cancer in Women

In honor of Women’s Health Month, which took place in May, we discuss the latest preventative care, risk factors, and treatment options for breast, cervical, and ovarian cancers in female patients.
Facts About Breast Cancer 

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer that United States women are diagnosed with.1 When detected early through self-exams, clinical exams, and mammograms,  breast cancer is treatable.1–3

Risk factors for breast cancer. Women over 55 years of age are more likely to develop invasive breast cancers. Patients with overweight and obesity have an increased risk of breast cancer following menopause. Smoking cigarettes is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer among premenopausal women.4 Mothers who breastfeed for a minimum of six months post-childbirth are likely to have a reduced risk of developing breast cancer compared to mothers who have not breastfed.5

Screening. For patients with an average risk, the current guidelines recommend beginning screening at age 40. However, patients with a higher than average risk might need to begin screening between the ages of 25 and 35, and should consult their doctor to determine this.6

Treatment. Treatment begins with a clinical evaluation, imaging, and tissue biopsy to assess the stage and severity.2 In combination with surgery, treatment often includes hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.2 

Facts About Cervical Cancer 

Cervical cancer is the fourth leading cancer among women globally.7 Cervical cancer is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).7 This type of cancer is highly preventable with the HPV vaccine, routine HPV testing, and routine Pap smears.7 

Patients at low risk for cervical cancer should begin Pap smears at age 21 through age 65, with HPV testing beginning at age 30.7 With negative results, the current recommendations are for patients to undergo Pap smears every 3 to 5 years.7

Symptoms of cervical cancer include cervical lesions, erosions, masses, and vaginal bleeding.7 Both HPV and Pap screenings are conducted during a pelvic exam; the inside of the cervix is swabbed and the samples are sent to a laboratory to be tested for HPV and/or malignancy.8

Another preventative measure for cervical cancer in women is the HPV vaccine for patients aged 9 to 45 and can help protect against cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers.9 

Treatment options include excision, radical hysterectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation.7 For patients looking to preserve their fertility, treatment options are available to remove the cancerous cells or parts of the affected cervix.7 

Facts About Ovarian Cancer

The most common form of ovarian cancer develops in the cells that cover the ovaries, the female reproductive glands that produce eggs.10 Other types include ovarian cancer that begins in the fallopian tubes or the peritoneum, the tissue lining covering the organs located in the abdomen.10 Most ovarian cancers are attributed to genetic changes throughout a patient’s lifetime; however, patients who have a mother, sister, or daughter with ovarian cancer are at an increased risk.10 Patients that have Lynch syndrome, endometriosis, or have overweight and obesity are also at a higher risk for ovarian cancer.10

Ovarian cancer often goes undetected, as patients in the early stages of this disease are often asymptomatic. Once symptoms appear, patients often experience pain, swelling, and pressure in the pelvis or abdomen, frequent urges to urinate, difficulty eating, bloating, and constipation.10

Steps for diagnosing ovarian cancer includes a pelvic exam, imaging, blood tests, and a biopsy.10 Treatment options for ovarian cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.10

There are currently no preventative measures for ovarian cancer; however, experts recommend to be aware of any unusual bodily changes and to discuss them with providers.  To diganose ovarian cancer, providers will conduct a pelvic exam, a transvaginal ultrasound, or a blood test to check for ovarian cancer.11

  1. BreastCancer.org. About Breast Cancer. Reviewed 7 Jul 2023. https://www.breastcancer.org/about-breast-cancer#section-breast-cancer-risk Accessed 15 Apr 2023.
  2. Alkabban FM, Ferguson T. Breast Cancer. Updated 26 Sep 2022. StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan–. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482286/
  3. BreastCancer.org. Mammography Technique and Types. Updated 25 May 2023. https://www.breastcancer.org/screening-testing/mammograms/types Accessed 15 Apr 2024.
  4. BreastCancer.org. Breast Cancer Risk Factors. Updated 5 Apr 2024. https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/risk-factors Accessed 15 Apr 2024.
  5. Cordeiro, B.  Breastfeeding lowers your breast cancer risk. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Oct 2014. https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/breastfeeding-breast-cancer-prevention.h19-1589046.html Accessed 15 Apr 2024. 
  6. BreastCancer.org. Mammogram Screening Guidelines. Updated 5 Apr 2024. https://www.breastcancer.org/screening-testing/mammograms/recommendations. Accessed 15 Apr 2024.
  7. Fowler JR, Maani EV, Dunton CJ, et al. Cervical Cancer. Updated 12 Nov 2023. StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan–. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK431093/
  8. What should I know about cervical cancer screening? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 21 Aug 2023. Accessed 15 Apr 2024. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/screening.htm.
  9. Gardasil®9 (human papillomavirus 9-valent vaccine, recombinant). Gardasil 9. 15 Mar 2024. https://www.gardasil9.com/ Accessed 15 Apr 2024.
  10. MedlinePlus. National Library of Medicine (US). Ovarian Cancer. Updated 10 Jan 2024. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/ovariancancer.html#summary Accessed 16 Apr 2024.
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ovarian cancer: what should I know about screening? Reviewed 14 Jun 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/ovarian/basic_info/screening.htm Accessed 16 Apr 2024.  

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