Women and Cancer


Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Cancer death rates vary by gender, race, and ethnicity.

You Should Know the Facts!

Female cancer death rates peaked in 1991 at 142.2 per 100,000. Overall, female deaths decreased an average of 0.4 per year through 1996, with a significant decrease in breast cancer rates but a continued increase in lung cancer death rates. From 1990 to 2000, the overall cancer death rate declined less for women than for men.

Notable disparities in death rates exist. For example, in 2000, the cervical cancer death rate was 5.7 per 100,000 for non-Hispanic black women compared to 2.4 per 100,000
for non-Hispanic white women.

As much as 50 percent or more of cancer can be prevented through smoking cessation and improved dietary habits, such as reducing fat consumption and increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. Physical activity and weight control also can contribute to cancer prevention.

Women should follow screening recommendations for cancers of the breast, cervix, and colon/rectum.

The list of causes and risk factors associated with cancer in general is long and includes genetics, radiation, tobacco use, environmental exposures, and artificial sweeteners. Specific cancers also have specific causes and risk factors. For example, exposing skin to strong sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer. Smoking is a risk factor for cancers of the lung, mouth, larynx, bladder, kidney, colon, and several other organs.

Family history can be a factor. For example, breast cancer risk is higher among women whose close blood relatives have this disease. Some studies suggest that breast feeding may slightly lower breast cancer risk.

Women cannot change some risk factors such as age, gender, and race/ethnicity. Women can make personal or lifestyle choices about nutrition, physical activity, and tobacco use. And, women can stay informed: Every day scientists learn more about risk. Just recently, the results of a study linking antibiotic use and an increased risk of breast cancer were announced.