How Women Can Protect Themselves Against Cancer

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As a woman, you know how to take charge of a lot of things. And we’re here to help you take charge of your whole health, too. One way is to take note of some important cancer awareness and prevention tips.

For starters, you should aim to maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and eat a nutritious, balanced diet. You should also see your primary care physician for regular preventive visits and undergo all cancer screenings they recommend.

Understand Your Cancer Risk

It’s important that you understand your own risk for developing certain types of cancer in the future. If cancer runs in your family, undergoing genetic counseling and testing can help you better understand your risk. Armed with this information, you can take steps now to decrease the likelihood that you’ll develop cancer in the future.

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

You’re at increased risk for breast cancer if you:

  • Are age 55 or older
  • Are overweight
  • Began menstruating before age 12
  • Began menopause after age 55
  • Don’t exercise regularly
  • Drink alcohol
  • Had previous hormone replacement therapy or radiation treatment
  • Have dense breasts
  • Have a family or personal history of breast cancer
  • Never breastfed
  • Smoke

Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer

You’re at increased risk for cervical cancer if you:

  • Are between the age of 30 and 50
  • Have the HPV infection
  • Smoke

Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer

You’re at increased risk for ovarian cancer if you:

  • Are in menopause or are post-menopausal
  • Have a family history of gynecologic, colon or endometrial cancer
  • Have Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
  • Never had children

Risk Factors for Uterine and Endometrial Cancer

You’re at increased risk for uterine and endometrial cancer if you:

  • Are overweight
  • Began menopause after age 52
  • Have a family history of colon or endometrial cancer
  • Have diabetes or high blood pressure
  • Never had children
  • Take estrogen without progesterone
  • Use tamoxifen (medication)

Risk Factors for Vaginal Cancer

You’re at increased risk for vaginal cancer if you:

  • Are age 60 or older
  • Have the HPV infection
  • Smoke
  • Use diethylstilbestrol (medication)

Risk Factors for Vulvar Cancer

You’re at increased risk for vulvar cancer if you:

  • Have lichen sclerosis
  • Have the HPV infection
  • Smoke

Get Screened to Protect Your Health

Being proactive and undergoing important cancer screenings can help your doctor catch any signs of pre-cancer or early cancer sooner, which usually leads to better outcomes.


Depending on your risk factors and family history, you’ll likely start annual mammograms sometime between the ages of 40 and 50. (Speak with your primary care provider to determine the screening schedule that’s right for you.) Expect to undergo an annual mammogram until age 75. This test can identify possible early signs of breast cancer.

Clinical Breast Exam

If you’re between the ages of 20 and 39 and have no other risk factors, you should undergo a clinical breast exam every three years. If you’re age 40 or older, you should have a clinical breast exam each year. A comprehensive clinical breast exam can help identify breast cancer relatively early, which typically means more effective treatment options.

Monthly Breast Self-Exam

Women of all ages should perform a monthly self-exam of their breasts in the shower or in front of a mirror. Use the pads of your index and middle fingers to check your entire breasts in a circular motion. You should check for any abnormal or new lumps, areas of thickening or hardened knots. Also, check your nipples for lumps or discharge. Contact your provider if you notice anything out of the ordinary.

Pap Test and HPV Test

Most women should undergo an annual Pap test and HPV test until age 65. These tests screen for abnormalities that may indicate pre- or early cervical cancer. Testing positive for HPV helps identify women who may be at risk to develop cervical cancer later on in life.

Make You a Priority

We urge you to take a few minutes today to schedule your annual or recommended screening exam. Talking with your primary care physician about the cancer screenings that are right for you can go a long way in helping you understand your risks for certain cancers, and in catching cancer early (when it can be best treated). Learn more about leading-edge cancer screening, detection and treatment from our Women's Health and Mammography programs.

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