"The more that you read,
the more things you will know.
The more that you learn,
the more places you'll go.

Dr. Seuss,  I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

The Global Impact Of Breast And Cervical Cancer In Women

February 4th is designated as World Cancer Day with a tagline of Not Beyond Us”. Through awareness and education, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) uses World Cancer Day as a stage to create awareness and educate all people including women to get the care they need. In recognition of this global event, it is important to identify the two most prevalent cancers among women- breast and cervical cancer.

Breast and cervical cancer are the two most common types of cancers diagnosed in women everywhere in the world. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC,) and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) information shows that between 1980 and 2010, the rate of breast cancer in low-and-middle-income countries has increased from about 33 percent to over 50 percent.

Breast Cancer. According to research data from the International Conference on Population and Development Beyond 2014 (ICPD,), the most disturbing information their data showed is that in low-and-middle-income countries (LMIC,) death rates from breast and cervical cancer is increasing in younger women, especially those who are in the reproductive age group. At this rate, by the year 2025, the number of breast and cervical cancer deaths among young women will equal that of childbirth and pregnancy in these countries.

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer:

Being a female and increasing age pose the highest risk factors for developing breast cancer. Other risk factors include:

1. Family History
Having a mother or sister who has or had breast cancer increases a women’s risk factor significantly. That risk factor increases more if the mother carries one of the breast cancer genes – either the BRCA1, BRCA2 or p53 gene.

2. Age of First Menstrual Cycle
Women whose period starts when they are very young have an increased risk of developing breast cancer – simply because they are exposed to estrogen longer.

3. Age When First Child is Born and How Long Child is Breast-Fed
The older a woman is when she has her first baby is another factor that may have an impact on her breast cancer risk. Breastfeeding has been reported to reduce breast cancer risk.

4. Alcohol and Tobacco Use
Smoking and drinking alcohol are things that can increase a women’s risk of getting breast cancer. Reducing alcohol consumption and quitting smoking are major changes that can lower the risk of developing breast cancer.

5. High-fat Diet and Obesity
A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables deprive women of important cancer-protective nutrients – such as beta-carotene, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. Women who don’t eat fruits or vegetables, or who don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables, tend to be overweight/obese, both of which are risk factors that can contribute to the development of breast cancer.

Mammograms have been shown through many research studies to decrease mortality from breast cancer due to early detection.  It is recommended that women over the age of 40 (or earlier if there is a strong family history) have a yearly clinical examination and screening mammogram to aid in the early detection of breast cancer. Women over the age of 20 are encouraged to perform a monthly self-breast examination.

Cervical Cancer

Half a million women around the world are impacted by cervical cancer every year. According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, over 80 percent of the cases of cervical cancer diagnosed throughout the world occur in developing countries. Almost all cases of cervical cancer are linked to the Human papillomavirus or HPV.

There are over 100 known types or strains of HPV. Out of those 100, no fewer than 15 are high-risk types that associated with cervical cancer. Statistically, a very small number of women who are diagnosed with HPV actually develop cervical cancer.

Risk Factors for Developing Cervical Cancer: The American Cancer Society suggests that the following factors may increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer:

1. Developing persistent cases of high-risk strains of HPV. Women who have sex at a young age, have multiple sexual partners or have unprotected sex increase their risk for getting HPV – which may lead to the development of cervical cancer.

2. Women whose immune systems are deficient from diseases like HIV are at extremely high risk of contracting cervical cancer because their bodies lack the necessary resources to fight off infection or anything that might precipitate cervical cancer.

3. Smoking is another huge risk factor, and women who smoke are twice as likely to suffer from cervical cancer as non-smokers are. Smoking is also a risk factor for breast cancer and many other cancers.

4. Developing other sexually transmitted disease has also been reported to increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer.

Prevention of cervical cancer. The risk of contracting HPV is significantly reduced by practicing safe sex and limiting sex partners. Delaying intercourse and vaccinating girls, boys and young women with the HPV vaccine can help in the prevention of cervical cancer. Having regular Pap tests is very crucial for women. A healthcare provider will determine whether a woman needs a Pap test every year or every three years. A pap smear is the only proven way to detect early changes in the cervix before they become cancerous. If changes are detected, they can be attended to earlier. An HPV test can be obtained at the same time as a Pap test. In most developing countries the cheaper of the two test is the Pap smear.

Taking prevention precautions and early detection recommendations seriously greatly reduce the impact of breast and cervical cancer. Making sure you are aware and educated about these facts is the goal of World Cancer Day.