Cancer is a group of more than 100 different diseases that can affect virtually any part of the body. The body is made up of cells that divide to produce more cells when the body needs them. When cells become abnormal for one reason or another and keep dividing and forming more cells even though they are not needed, they form a mass called a tumor.
Tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). The cells in cancerous tumors can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also break away from a malignant tumor and travel through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system to form new tumors in other parts of the body. The spread of cancer is called metastasis.
The links at the top provide information about the types of cancer that most commonly affect women. For more information, please see the website of the National Cancer Institute.
Cancer symptoms, prevention and treatment
The word "CAUTION" can be used to remind you of the most common warning signs of cancer:
Change in bowel or bladder habits
A sore that does not heal
Unusual bleeding or discharge
Thickening or lump in the breast or any other part of the body
Indigestion or difficulty swallowing
Obvious change in a wart or mole, or
Nagging cough or hoarseness
Although these symptoms are not always warning signs of cancer, it is important to see a doctor if you have any of these symptoms. They can also be caused by less serious conditions, but only a doctor can make that diagnosis. Many people put off a visit to their health care provider and worry unnecessarily.
Don’t wait to feel pain: early cancer usually does not cause pain. When a tumor/mass is discovered, a biopsy is the only sure way to know whether the problem is cancer. In a biopsy, the doctor removes a sample of tissue and the tissue is examined under a microscope to check for cancerous cells.
Treatment of cancer
Today, cancer is treated with a variety of methods including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and biological therapy. Your doctor may use one method or a combination of methods. The choice of treatment depends on the type and location of the cancer, whether the disease has spread, the patient’s age and general health, and other factors.
Many cancer patients take part in clinical trials (research studies) testing new treatment methods. Such studies are designed to improve cancer treatment.
Prevention of cancer
Many cases of cancer can be prevented by not using tobacco products, avoiding the harmful rays of the sun, and choosing foods with less fat and more fiber. In addition, regular checkups and self-exams can reveal cancer at an early stage when treatment is likely to be effective.