How Women Can Reduce Their Cancer Risk

Female Patient Meets With Doctor

Ohio State doctors are marking Women’s Health Week by sharing everyday tips that can decrease the risk of cancer and increase the chances of potentially life-saving early diagnoses.

“Women should discuss, and make sure to get, the age-appropriate screening tests for cervical, breast, colorectal and lung cancer. Most importantly, be aware of what’s abnormal for you—signs, symptoms and any lumps or bumps,” says Electra Paskett, PhD, the associate director for population sciences and program leader of the Cancer Control Program of the The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James), and the director of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

Here’s some more info women can use to prevent and detect cancer while improving their overall health:

HPV vaccination can help women reduce the risk of several cancers, including cervical, vulvar and head and neck varieties.

• “[HPV vaccination could] eradicate a lot of cancers while reducing the cost of treatment and increasing quality of life. It also helps protect partners from HPV-related cancers, such as oral, penis and anal, and also from genital warts and cervical pre-cancerous conditions.” – Paskett

• “About 85 percent of all women will be exposed to HPV some point in their lives through sexual contact. While in most cases the body’s immune system is able to clear it, in others it leads to cancer. The FDA has now approved a vaccine for use up to age 45, and advisory committees are working on how to best incorporate it in guidelines. It’s most effective if you have not already been introduced to HPV, but there is also some activity in men and women who have already been exposed to HPV.” – Floor Backes, MD, gynecologic oncologist

Pap tests—recommended every three years for women beginning at age 21, and then every five years after age 30—helped reduced cervical cancer deaths by nearly 70 percent from 1955 to 1992.

• “The Pap test detects pre-cancerous cells in the cervix that can easily be removed before they become cancerous, and it can detect cancer in the early stages. This is so important because the cure rate goes down from about 90 percent to 40 to 50 percent when it’s first detected in the late stages, and once it has spread beyond the lymph nodes and outside the pelvic area, it is not curable.” – Backes

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women, with one in eight American women diagnosed during their lifetimes. To reduce risk, doctors recommend regular screenings, with a variety of additional measures based on family history and other factors.

• “We encourage women and health care providers to consider individualized risk approaches to early detection and screening. For women above the age of 40 with average risk, we recommend annual screening mammograms after discussing the potential benefits, risks and limitations with their health care providers.

• “Women should also discuss their personal and family histories with their primary care physicians and be aware of and ask about the following breast cancer risk factors: benign or atypical breast biopsies, prolonged estrogen exposure, never having breastfed, dense breast tissue and having known genetic mutations, such as BRCA. Women with higher-than-average lifetime risk may benefit from earlier and additional screenings—such as breast MRIs—genetic testing and counseling and risk-reducing treatments such as surgery and tamoxifen or other medications. Sagar Sardesai, MBBS, breast cancer medical oncologist

A healthy body weight is among the best ways for women to reduce risk, as obesity is expected to soon overtake smoking as the leading preventable cause of cancer.

• “Consider maintaining a healthy body weight (a BMI of less than 25) and incorporate at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week and two strength training sessions of 20 to 30 minutes a week into your routine. We also encourage women (and everyone) to consume a predominantly plant-based diet, with at least three to four servings of fruits and vegetables every day, and to limit the consumption of red meat, processed foods and alcohol.” – Sardesai