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Five Common Cancers Affecting Women

For decades, infectious diseases led the way in the number of deaths caused by ill-health, especially in less developed countries like Nigeria. These infectious diseases have been contained in recent years because of advances in medicine and safer practices in agriculture and food preparation. In their place is a surge in non-communicable diseases like cancers which are responsible for many deaths particularly in the developed world.

According to the international agency for research on cancer, GLOBOCAN, 2018 saw 18.1 million new cases of cancer and about 9.6 million deaths globally. In Nigeria, about 100,000 cancer diagnoses were made with 40,000 cancer-related deaths recorded in 2018, a ratio of 1 death in every 3 cancer cases. While the numbers are similar in males and females, there are some variations in males and females.

Lung cancer is the leading type of cancer diagnosed worldwide. It is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both sexes – responsible for 11.6% of all cancer cases diagnosed and 18.4% of all cancer deaths. Of all new cancer cases diagnosed in 2018, 8.6 million cases were seen in women. Below are the commonest cancers in women:

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer

While this is possible in men, more than 99% of all cases of breast cancers diagnosed are in women. It totalled about 11.6% of all cancers diagnosed in 2018. It is also the leading cause of cancer death in women.

Genetic factors, early age at start of menstruation, late age at cessation of menstruation, having a few or no children are thought to be the leading risk factors for the development of breast cancer.

Colorectal Cancer 

: Each 50-gram (1.8-ounce) portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent, according to the WHO PHOTO: AFP

With about 6.1% of all cancers diagnosed in 2018, it is present in both males and females. Colorectal cancer is the development of cancer in the lower end of the digestive tract, the colon and the rectum. It is greatly influenced by dietary habits, obesity, smoking and physical inactivity.

Lung Cancer

Worldwide, Lung cancer leads the way in cancer cases and cancer-related deaths. Over 80% of all lung cancer cases are directly attributed to smoking. Symptoms include: coughing, coughing up of blood, and prolonged shortness of breath, among others.

Cervical Cancer

Cervical Cancer Photo credit:

A large percentage of cervical cancer cases are caused by long term infection with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is transmitted sexually. While it affects sexually active women all over the world, it is commonest in the less-developed regions of the world. It slowly develops over the course of two decades with most infections happening in late teenage years.

Having a high number of children, smoking, poverty, being HIV+ are also risk factors that may predispose one to cervical cancer. There are effective screen methods and vaccines for HPV, with a high cure rate and survival with prompt and proper treatment.

Thyroid Cancer

Globally, it is responsible for over 500,000 cases of cancer. Thyroid cancer is three times more common in women than in men. Although it is fairly common, it is responsible for about 0.5% of all cancer deaths in women.

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