Five Cancers Women Must Be Vigilant About
We asked some of Roswell Park’s doctors who specialize in cancers that affect women to share some tips for preventing or treating cancer. Here’s what they offered.
Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women. Most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not actually have a family history of breast cancer. “Since 1990 the death rate from breast cancer has decreased,” says Ermelinda Bonaccio, MD, Director, Mammography Center at RPCI and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Diagnostic Radiology. “This has been due to both early detection and improved treatments,” she adds. According to Bonaccio, mammography is currently the only test that has been proven to decrease the risk of dying from breast cancer. “It is crucial for woman 40 years and older to get a mammogram every year,” she offers. “A woman with certain risk factors may need to start at a younger age, but only after consultation with her physician.”
Read general breast cancer tips and information.
Steven Hochwald, MD, FACS, Vice Chair and Chief of Gastrointestinal Surgery at RPCI, treats men and women facing colorectal cancer each day at Roswell Park. He says that eating a high-fat diet (especially from animal sources), being overweight, smoking and being inactive are the biggest risk factors. “Colorectal cancer is one of the few cancers where we have fairly accurate ways to see early signs,” said Dr. Hochwald. “If pre-cancerous polyps are found and removed, we can prevent it. But why wait for polyps? Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables and stop polyps before they can start.”
Endometrial cancer, or cancer of the lining of the uterus, occurs mostly in women age 50 and older. Stacey Akers, MD, of Roswell Park's Department of Gynecologic Oncology, advises women that while the Pap test is good at finding cancer of the cervix, it is not a test for endometrial cancer. “Watch for signs like unusual spotting or bleeding not related to menstrual periods, and if this happens, tell your doctor immediately,” she cautions.
Martin Mahoney, MD, PhD, director of Roswell Park's Cancer Prevention and Detection Center, and a leader in RPCI’s Lung Cancer Early Detection Program, says that though lung cancer kills more men and women than any other cancer, it is also often preventable. “Smoking is an extremely difficult addiction to quit, but quitting is the most important health behavior change that a person can make,” said Mahoney. “The best advice is never to start, but if you smoke, get help from your doctor or nurse or the New York State Smoker’s Quitline. If you have loved ones or friends still smoking, keep encouraging them to do the same.”
This cancer is often called the silent killer because its symptoms often go unrecognized or disguised as something else. But according to Nefertiti duPont, MD, formerly of Roswell Park, there are ways women can increase their chances of having the disease diagnosed earlier. “We hope one day that we will have a screening test for ovarian cancer, but until then, women must pay close attention to the signals their body gives them,” offered duPont. “Symptoms like abdominal pain, persistent abdominal swelling, loss of appetite and bloating are things that need to be reported as soon as possible.”
Learn about ovarian cancer, diagnosis and treatment options.