HOW KNOWLEDGEABLE ARE YOU ABOUT FEMALE CANCERS? 20 QUESTIONS AND 20 ANSWERS ON THE TOPIC

The Topic Of This Post

  • 1. What are female cancers?
  • 2. What is the most dangerous of gynecological cancers?
  • 3. What is the most common gynecological tumor?
  • 4. Endometrial cancer: what are the risk factors?
  • 5. How is endometrial cancer diagnosed?
  • 6. Cervical cancer: what are the risk factors?
  • 7. What is colposcopy for?
  • 8. How common is vulva cancer?
  • 9. Can melanomas affect the female genital system?
  • 10. Can infertility treatments increase cancer risk?
  • 11. What are hereditary female cancers?
  • 12. When is ovarian cancer hereditary?
  • 13. When to do the genetic test for ovarian cancer?
  • 14. Is there a genetic test for family members of a patient with ovarian cancer and genetic mutation?
  • 15. Breast prevention: which tests to undergo?
  • 16. When to have a mammogram?
  • 17. Does the contraceptive pill increase the risk of breast cancer?
  • 18. Does fibrocystic mastopathy increase the risk of breast cancer?
  • 19. Does breastfeeding protect women from breast cancer?
  • 20. Does the consumption of white meat reduce the risk of breast cancer?

Undergoing periodic screenings, which allow the early detection of a tumor, is essential because it allows a better clinical approach, significantly increasing the chances of recovery. Equally important is prevention through good daily practices, which affect multiple aspects of our life. While these concepts are often taken for granted when it comes to cancer, the topic is indeed vast, research continues to make progress, and that we often do not find the clarity and information we need. Like every year, in October, in the month dedicated to prevention, on our blog we will talk about female tumors: we decided to collect the most common doubts on the subject in twenty questions. WHAT ARE FEMALE CANCERS?

Female cancers affect a woman’s breasts and reproductive organs. Specifically, the diseases we refer to are:

  • cancer of the uterus
  • ovarian cancer
  • cancer of the vulva
  • cervical cancer
  • breast cancer.

The first 4 falls under the name of ” gynecological tumors “since they concern the uterus (both the body and the cervix), the appendages (ovaries and fallopian tubes), the vulva, and the vagina.

WHAT IS THE MOST DANGEROUS OF THE GYNECOLOGICAL CANCERS?

In most cases, ovarian cancer originates from the epithelial cells of the ovaries or tubes. Ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer among women and is the most dangerous since it is difficult to diagnose. Often, it is identified in an advanced stage, when it has already given rise to metastases in the peritoneum.

WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON GYNECOLOGICAL TUMOR?

Among the cancers of the female genital system, the most common is endometrial cancer, the most frequent form of cancer of the uterus, which affects its cavity. It represents about 6% of neoplasms among women, it is the most widespread in industrialized countries, and its onset generally occurs no earlier than 40 years of age, in post-menopause. It usually develops in the cells of the endometrium (adenocarcinoma), while cancer of the uterus rarely affects the muscle layer (uterine sarcoma).

ENDOMETRIAL CANCER: WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS?

Endometrial cancer affects cells of the mucosa that covers the uterine walls. Some conditions have been identified that would increase the risk of developing the disease, although its causes are not yet fully understood:

  • early menarche (first menstruation at a very young age)
  • late menopause
  • tamoxifen-based and estrogen-based therapy, to counteract some cancers
  • obesity ;
  • diabetes ;
  • arterial hypertension ;
  • unbalanced diet, with excessive consumption of red meat
  • familiarity.

HOW IS ENDOMETRIAL CANCER DIAGNOSED?

Some red flags can indicate the presence of endometrial cancer. In presence of:

  • vaginal bleeding outside of menstruation or after menopause
  • severe pain when urinating
  • pain during coitus
  • pain localized in the pelvic area

It is advisable to contact your doctor and gynecologist to carry out tests. The diagnosis of cancer occurs following removal of tissue from the uterus, which can take place with a hysteroscopy, an endometrial biopsy, or dilation and curettage.

  1. CERVICAL CANCER: WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS?

Cancer of the cervix or cervix affects cells in the lower region of this organ, the one that connects to the vagina. The cause of its onset has been identified in the HPV virus ( Human papillomavirus ): it is extremely common, and not all strains are equally dangerous. It is estimated that 70% of women will come into contact with it in their lifetime, but the percentage of those who will develop cancer is much lower. Generally, the virus is naturally eliminated from our bodies. Precancerous lesions arise after many years, in the presence of various factors, such as a persistent decline in immune defenses, or the onset of other sexually transmitted diseases.

There is no cure for the Papillomavirus, so it is necessary to rely on periodic checks that allow you to identify its presence: the PAP test is the exam par excellence, which should be carried out every 6 months.

WHAT IS COLPOSCOPY FOR?

Colposcopy is a thorough examination of the uterine cervix, which allows studying the cellular abnormalities on the surface of the cervix. If the result of the PAP test indicated the presence of the HPV virus and lesions, it is necessary to carry out this further investigation to understand whether they are benign or cancerous cells, and thus determine the possible early presence of a tumor in the neck of the ‘uterus.

HOW COMMON IS VULVA CANCER?

Among female neoplasms,  tumors of the vulva and vagina are the rarest. Age is the major risk factor: in fact, the onset almost always occurs over the age of 50, and about half of the cases are found in women over 70. It is not clear what the triggers are, however it seems that factors such as smoking and having contracted the papillomavirus or HIV seem to play a role.

These are not particularly aggressive pathologies, which develop slowly and are asymptomatic in the initial phase; precisely because they are often identified late, requiring surgical intervention, sometimes even invasive, with a strong impact on the patient’s life, even on a psychological level. This is why it is important to keep symptoms such as itching or redness under control, and always ask your gynecologist for a consultation.

CAN MELANOMAS AFFECT THE FEMALE GENITAL SYSTEM?

Cutaneous melanoma is a skin cancer that affects about 6,700 women every year. This neoplasm can develop in any area of ​​the body, including on the genital system (vulva and vagina).

CAN INFERTILITY TREATMENTS INCREASE CANCER RISK?

To date, there is no scientific data that confirms a direct correlation between the ovarian stimulation necessary for the medically assisted procreation procedure and the onset of a tumor. Infertility treatments, which involve taking drugs that affect hormone levels, do not appear to increase the risk of ovarian, endometrial, cervical, and breast cancer. On the other hand, the number of borderline ovarian tumors, very rare forms, not very aggressive and treatable in most cases, could increase, albeit to a limited extent.

WHAT ARE HEREDITARY FEMALE CANCERS?

There are some tumors for which genetic factors are relevant: in this case, we are talking about hereditary tumors, due to mutations present in the cells of the whole organism. For some of them, genetic tests have been developed, which are carried out through a simple blood test and allow to identify the presence of any mutations. In the case of breast and ovarian cancer, 5-10% of cases are hereditary and for this reason, it is possible to carry out tests.

WHEN IS OVARIAN CANCER HEREDITARY?

A family history of oncological disease represents a risk factor for ovarian cancer: when the origin is genetic, it is caused by the mutation of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, defined as tumor suppressors, as they act as inhibitors of the multiplication of abnormal cells. When there is a modification, because defective BRCA1 and BRCA2 are inherited from the mother or father, their protective value is lost. In this case, the risk of ovarian cancer increases approximately 30-50 times compared to a person without the mutation.

WHEN TO DO THE GENETIC TEST FOR OVARIAN CANCER?

The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are not the only ones involved in ovarian cancer. The genetic mutations known today are only a small part and research continues to address this important aspect. The genetic test for ovarian cancer is often carried out not on healthy people, but on patients who have already developed the disease, even if there is no family history: the investigation is aimed at identifying any mutation since today there are very effective drugs for these types of cancer.

IS THERE A GENETIC TEST FOR FAMILY MEMBERS OF A PATIENT WITH OVARIAN CANCER AND GENETIC MUTATION?

Family members of a woman with ovarian cancer, if the mutation has been detected in her genes, can undergo a specific test that verifies whether this mutation has been inherited or not. If BRCA1 and BRCA2 are altered, it is possible to undertake a prevention process.

BREAST PREVENTION: WHICH TESTS TO UNDERGO?

Among female cancers, breast cancer is the most widespread: according to estimates by Lilt, the Italian League for the fight against cancer, there were about 53,200 new cases in 2019 in our country. The prevention through the adoption of a healthy and balanced lifestyle, where you are monitoring the diet, you avoid smoking and drinking alcohol, are physically active. However, it is also important to undergo periodic checks to detect this disease early and to be able to intervene immediately, increasing the chances of recovery. It is about:

  • breast examination
  • instrumental examinations (mammography without and with tomosynthesis, ultrasound, galactography, magnetic resonance)
  • genetic tests, such as that for hereditary ovarian cancer, which allows identifying the mutation of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

WHEN TO HAVE A MAMMOGRAM?

Every woman between the ages of 50 and 69 should have this exam every two years. In some regions, such as Emilia Romagna, mammography is scheduled from 45 on an annual basis. Mammography with tomosynthesis is an even more advanced examination, with which it is possible to reconstruct and view the acquired images in 3D, to analyze the outcome in depth.

DOES THE CONTRACEPTIVE PILL INCREASE THE RISK OF BREAST CANCER?

Prolonged use of hormonal contraceptives is related to an increased risk of breast cancer. This is a fact confirmed by numerous studies, although closely linked to the duration of treatment and also to other risk factors. Most of the research has been carried out on high-dose and triphasic pills, which are almost no longer used today, but it has also been shown that, even with current doses, the period of intake affects the increased risk. It is also true that where other factors are already present, such as a genetic mutation, or another tumor, the woman who takes hormonal contraceptives is increasingly more likely to develop breast cancer.

DOES FIBROCYSTIC MASTOPATHY INCREASE THE RISK OF BREAST CANCER?

Fibrocystic disease is a benign disease that causes the appearance of cysts and breast lumps, due to imbalances and hormonal changes during the fertile period. Although this is a bothersome and painful problem, for which it is always good to consult your doctor, it does not affect the risk of developing breast cancer.

DOES BREASTFEEDING PROTECT WOMEN FROM BREAST CANCER?

Breastfeeding has many benefits for the newborn, but it is a practice that is also good for the new mother: numerous scientific studies have shown that it represents a protective factor for breast cancer, since, for each year of breastfeeding, the risk is lowered by 4.3%. Even in women with a mutation of the BRCA1 and 2 genes, the risk of cancer is halved by breastfeeding.

DOES THE CONSUMPTION OF WHITE MEAT REDUCE THE RISK OF BREAST CANCER?

If it is proven that eating too much red meat is unhealthy for our body, since it increases the possibility of developing numerous pathologies, not only cancerous, concerning white meat and their possible protective role, in particular for female neoplasms, do not there are still definitive answers. According to a 2019 study, conducted on women with high familiarity with breast cancer, but without a diagnosis, fewer cases were found among those who consumed white meat than among women who routinely eat red meat, however, experts are still cautious. ‘interpret these data.

With the hope of having shed some light on some issues concerning female cancers, let us remember once again how much the lifestyle makes the difference, for a peaceful and healthy life. Spending time outdoors, taking walks or other physical activity, playing a sport, taking care of your diet, and taking every precaution that ensures our psycho-physical well-being, allows us to prevent many diseases, including cancer. Equally important are periodic checks, to be lived without anxiety, as a further way of taking care of our body: for this reason, many Medicare insurance companies.

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