Easy Guide To: Understanding Female Cancers

Female Cancers


Cancer Overview


What Is Cancer?
Cancer Explained
What Causes It?
What Are The Most Common Female Cancers?
What Are The Signs of Cancer?
How Is Cancer Diagnosed?
How Is It Treated?
How Does Cancer Kill A Person?
What Are The Risk-Factors?

Specific Guides

Breast Cancer
Cervical Cancers
Fallopian Tube
Ovarian Cancer
Vaginal Cancer
Vulva Cancer
Womb Cancer

Cancer Guide

Thermography Screening
Prevention Tips

Treatment Options

Treatment Overview
Radiation Therapy
Surgical Options
Surgery Recovery Time
Alternative Treatments
Cancer Fighting Foods
Cancer Clinical Trials

Additional Resources

Books on Cancer

What Is Cancer?

Cancer is the overgrowth of abnormal cells in the body. Normal cells reproduce when the body needs them and die when they are old or damaged. Cancer cells ignore these rules and their only aim appears to be to grow and expand as quickly as possible. When they clump together they form a tumor or 'growth'. By expanding without control, cancer cells upset the body's natural status quo; they have the ability to attack adjoining healthy cells spreading disruption. Cancer cells which find their way into the blood stream or lymph system can spread to other parts of the body. This process is known as metastasis. Underneath a microscope cancer cells look different to healthy cells. This is why a biopsy (examining a piece of suspected tissue underneath a microscope) is required for a cancer diagnosis. Cancer tumors can form on any tissue in the body but they more commonly develop in major organs like the breasts, skin, stomach, lungs or womb.

Tumors can be benign or cancerous. Benign tumors occur when non-cancerous older cells live longer than they should or are not disposed of quickly enough. This causes them to pile up, common examples include warts, freckles or ovarian cysts. If the buildup however occurs as a result of cells being reproduced too quickly (cancer), then this is when the problems start to occur. Cancer cells are like parasites that crowd normal cells out, they devour nutrients and work less efficiently than normal cells. Normal cells stick to their own body area, cancer cells on the other hand pay little attention to borders. Even when benign cells push against normal cells for space, they still respect boundaries. When cancer cells penetrate other body parts and take over those cells this is known as invasive cancer.

Cancer Explained

One in four families in America is affected by cancer. It is one of the most investigated diseases in modern society and reports are published on an almost daily basis on causes, medications and cancer prevention techniques. However, in spite of consumer awareness the rate of breast and lung cancer continues to rise. In fact, one in 8 women is at risk of developing breast cancer by the age of 80. The rate of lung cancer also continues to increase despite us knowing the effects of smoking. This highlights the continued importance of education, not only for prevention, but to make people aware of the symptoms so they seek help. Early detection usually offers the best chances of survival. Nearly half of cancers can be found through self-examination and screening. In fact the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that the 5 year survival rate of early detected cancers is close to 95 percent. In other words, 'survival' and 'cancer' can go together quite comfortably. Early discovery of breast cancer for example leads to a 96 percent survival rate. Of course, naturally despite this, the diagnosis, 'YOU HAVE CANCER' still instills enormous fear, confusion and shock in patients. If you do receive a diagnosis, your doctors will start by discussing treatment options with you. You may also need to do a little research yourself because there is rarely one obvious choice. Having a clear understanding of your lifestyle goals will help you through this difficult period.

What Causes It?

Cancer causes: Scientists still do not know what causes cancer. Most researchers now believe that there is not one cause but many causes related to cell reproduction. Every cell has 23 pairs of chromosomes which contains millions of genes. These genes contain DNA which is the genetic blueprint that tells the cell how to develop and what to do. If there is a mutation in one of those genes it can cause the cell to change or mutate into a cancer cell. Over a person's lifetime certain identified environmental factors like smoking and exposure to sunlight can 'hit' the body and cause damage to our genetic makeup. Gradually, the more 'hits' the body receives the more vulnerable the cell becomes and more prone to mutating and turning cancerous. This is why older people are more likely to develop cancer - they have been exposed to more 'hits' over a greater period of time. Factors which promote cancer include:

• Benzene and other chemicals.
• Tobacco.
• DES hormone, a synthetic form of estrogen. Last prescribed in 1971 to help women with particular complications in pregnancy.
• Alcohol.
• Heredity factors.
• Obesity.
• Sunlight.
• Viruses.
• Environmental toxins

What Are The Most Common Female Cancers?

Breast Cancer
Endometrial Cancer (cancer of the uterus/womb)
Cervical Cancer
Ovarian Cancer

Less Common Types
Vagina Cancer
Vulva Cancer

Fallopian Tube Cancer

Other Common Types of Cancers
• Colon cancer
• Lung cancer
• Brain cancer
• Hodgkin's lymphoma
• Kidney cancer
• Leukemia
• Liver cancer
• Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
• Skin cancer
Thyroid cancer

What Are The Signs of Cancer?

The signs of cancer vary depending on the type of cancer present and it's location. As cancer grows it will start to inflict some change on the body. This could be a lump in the breast (breast cancer), blood in the stool (colon cancer) or shortness of breath (lung cancer). A sign is something that can be detected by a doctor, such as a lump, whereas a symptom is something that the woman feels, such as fatigue or pain. The following however is a list of cancer symptoms which appear in most cancer patients:

• Sudden weight loss
• Fatigue
• Night sweats
• Fever and chills

How Is Cancer Diagnosed?

The first stage of diagnosing cancer involves the doctor performing a physical examination and taking a patient’s medical history. Additional information can come from medical tests. These include:

• A biopsy of the tumor.
• Lab tests like blood counts.
• Imaging procedures such as x rays, mammogram, CT scans or MRI scans.

Early detection and diagnosis of cancer can make a significant difference in the life span of an individual. This is why screening tests like a Pap smear test and mammogram's are so important.

How Is It Treated?

Treatment for cancer depends on the type of cancer and the stage it has reached. Generally speaking there are 3 types of cancer treatments:

Cure: Where treatment can cure the cancer outright so that it does not return. This is often the case with skin cancer, breast, colon and lung cancers. See, also: what does cancer remission mean?
Control: This is a backup to a cure. If a cure is not possible, therapy may be able to keep cancer cells suspended for years, extending symptom-free periods. As a flare up occurs, it is quickly put out again.
Palliation: Palliative care means making a person with advanced stages of cancer as comfortable as possible. No cure is possible.

The most common types of cancer treatment are:

Surgery: Cancer surgery is normally elective not emergency. In other words the patient has time to choose the procedure. The general aim of surgery is to remove a tumor. See also, cancer surgery recovery.
Radiation: Radiation therapy is used to shrink or destroy a tumor, or to sterilize and area where a tumor was surgically removed but may still contain some stray cancer cells.
Chemotherapy: Is the taking of drugs to kill cancer cells. Some cancers are best treated by a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Others like lymphoma are rarely treated with surgery, but rather chemotherapy and radiation. See Chemotherapy Guide.
Complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) play an important role in cancer treatment. Nearly 90 percent of patients combine clinical treatments with alternative treatments for cancer. These natural therapies often help relieve the side effects of radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. The most popular CAM therapies are:

• Homeopathy.
• Acupressure and Acupuncture.
• Dietary Therapy, see our cancer diet foods.
• Herbal Medicine.
• Mental Visualization.
• Tai Chi and Qi Gong.
• Reiki.

How Cancers Differ

Regardless of where cancer has spread to it is still named after the place it started. So for example, breast cancer which has spread to the lungs is still known as breast cancer and not lung cancer. Different types of cancers behave quite differently. Breast cancer is very different to lung cancer, they grow at different rates and respond to different types of treatment.

How Does Cancer Kill A Person?

Ok, so we know that cancer spreads wildly and corrupts healthy cells. But how does it actually kill a person? There are 3 main ways that cancer can kill:

Space Occupying Tumors
Cancer tumors which grow large enough in confined spaces (such as the brain) can start to press on nearby sensitive tissues triggering other medical complications which can cause death.

Nutrition Deficiency
Another common cause of cancer death is nutritional deficiency. As cancer cells grow so rapidly their need for nutrients is far higher than healthy cells. As they they grab the body's available sources of nutrition, this can lead to a deficiency in unaffected healthy organs. Without adequate supplies of nutrients healthy organs can fail and cease operating.

Spreading To Other Organs
Some cancers may seem more 'harmless' than others. For example ovarian cancer may seem less dangerous than lung cancer. After all, we can do without our ovaries (women have their ovaries removed all the time with hysterectomy operation) but we definitely cannot do without our lungs. And yet, ovary cancer can kill women. That is, late stage ovarian cancer which has spread to nearby organs, specially the liver. If the liver becomes infected it can no longer detoxify the body of its waste materials nor can it regulate our blood sugar levels. Generally cancer which has spread to the liver is not curable and eventually proves fatal when the liver shuts down. Cancer which as spread to the lungs may be slowed for a period of time with drugs and chemo but eventually it too proves fatal.

What Are The Risk-Factors?

Research shows that there are certain risk factors that make a person more likely to develop cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute these are:

• Aging. Most cancers occur in people over 65.
• Spending too much time in the sun or tanning booths.
• Smoking.
• Some viruses and bacteria.
• A family history of cancer.
• Excessive alcohol.
• Poor diet and obesity.
• Ionizing radiation which comes from radon gas, x-rays and radiation fallout
• Certain chemicals which are more common to those working with pesticides, oil and paint supplies.

Protect yourself by staying away from known risk factors. Those who are concerned can order a cancer risk analysis which includes a complete genetic testing. These plans are costly, around $6,000 and are not covered by most insurance plans.

  Other Useful Guides

Health Screening Recommendations For Women: List for all ages.
A Woman's Body: How it works, visual guide with pictures.
Female Health Questions: Hundreds of Q&As on popular topics.
Abdominal Problems: Check your symptoms: Stomach pains & cramps.
Hospital Departments Explained: Guide to each department.
Female Health Statistics: How long will you live?
Leading Cause Of Death In Women: By ethnicity and age.
Does Cancer Hurt? The basic questions answered.

Return to Homepage: Womens Health Advice

Please Note: Information provided on this site is no substitute for professional medical help. See Disclaimer.
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