Breast cancer receives the most funding from the National Cancer Institute each year to help promote awareness and research of new treatment options. There are many awareness campaigns run by various organizations across the country which have been very successful in educating women about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer — including information on screening and prevention methods.
However, there are many cancers beyond breast that affect a large portion of women each year that aren't in the spotlight the way breast cancer is. It may be a leading site for cancer in women, but there are three other types of cancer that women should be taking just as seriously.
Statistically speaking, lung cancer is far more deadly to women in the U.S. than breast cancer. The rate of new cases of lung cancer diagnosed in women has increased 98 percent over the past 37 years and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women.
"Lung cancer is particularly worrisome because the treatment is not as effective unless found in the earliest stages despite advances in targeted therapies," says Judy L. Smith, M.D., M.S., C.P.E., F.A.C.S., who is chief of oncology at Spectrum Health Cancer Center.
When it comes to early detection of lung cancer, finding it in those early stages isn't very common. Only 15 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed before it has spread and because of this, over half of people diagnosed with lung cancer die within a year of their diagnosis.
"Lung cancer remains a deadly disease; the lung cancer five-year survival rate is 17.8 percent which is much lower than for colon or breast cancer," adds Smith.
Smith advises that if you experience a cough that won't go away or continues to get worse, experience frequent lung infections, weight loss with no apparent cause or you're feeling tired all the time, then these are possible symptoms of lung cancer that should prompt you to seek medical advice.
In 2012, there were an estimated 192,446 women living with ovary cancer in the U.S., according to statistics obtained by the National Cancer Institute — and all women are at risk of developing this disease.
"Ovarian cancer is likely to be diagnosed late as there are no effective screening tests for this disease," says Cheryl Saenz, M.D., UC San Diego Health System gynecological oncologist and professor of reproductive medicine at University of California San Diego School of Medicine.
The five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is high at 93 percent, but that's only if it's diagnosed early, which most cases aren't. Just like lung cancer, only 15 percent of ovarian cancer diagnoses reveal it's localized and hasn't spread. But, in 62 percent of cases, it's already metastasized (spread throughout the body).
Saenz advises that symptoms of ovarian cancer can be vague, but she suggests that if you experience abdominal fullness, pelvic pressure or if you've been feeling full after eating a small amount of food, you should make an appointment with your doctor.
Colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in women in the U.S. and the third most deadly. Although the risk is slightly lower for women than men, there are still over 340,000 cases diagnosed each year in women alone.
Thanks to new diagnostic measures, colon cancers are found much earlier than lung and ovarian cancers with 39 percent of cases being diagnosed in the early stages. Because of the screening measures, there is a significant five-year survival rate for those diagnosed with colorectal cancers, but awareness of the symptoms and when to get tested needs to increase among women.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are more than 20 million adults who haven't been screened for signs of colorectal cancer — that works out to be approximately one in three adults. These screening tests can prevent cancer or detect it at an early age through an at-home fecal occult blood test, which is recommended for any adult over the age of 50.
Smith advises that any woman who notices blood in her stool, has stool that is more narrow than usual or has nausea and weight loss with no apparent reason should speak with her doctor.
Early detection and being aware of any changes in your body can certainly help detect cancer in its early stages, but there are some things every woman can do at home to help prevent these diseases. "Eat well, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly and get regular checkups with your primary care provider," says Saenz. She continues, "Essentially take as good care of yourself as you would do for your family members!"
Smith agrees and also advises that every woman should be an advocate for herself. "We are blessed with a wealth of information and resources at our fingertips through the internet and social media," she says. "Women should take advantage of this information to educate themselves when they have a health question or concern."
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