Make the Connections Between Your Risk Factors and a Healthier Life

While all women are at risk of developing cancer in their lifetime, we can reduce that risk by understanding the cancers that affect us as women. Though not all cancers are preventable, we benefit from becoming aware. From understanding our family history to acknowledging the power of an active lifestyle, a healthy diet, avoiding tobacco and many other factors, we can begin to care for and about ourselves. We can and should advocate for our own health throughout life, in good health and through illness like cancer.

Understanding Cancers that affect us as women

More About Risk Factors

Family History Sometimes risk factors are shared by family members such as the tendency to smoke, but in other cases cancer is caused by an abnormal gene, passed from generation to generation. Between 5-10% of cancers are caused by gene defects, so knowing your family history is important. Learn more

Environment The sun and its UV exposure causing rays, air pollution, and radon in the home are increasingly considered to be environmental hazards to our health. In the workplace heavy metals in aluminum and coke production as well as iron, steel and rubber manufacturing are known to be carcinogenic along with asbestos. Learn more 

Estrogen It is disconcerting to think that a naturally occurring hormone in our bodies could be carcinogenic, but estrogen is just that. Estrogen is essential to our bodies but in some ways acts against us. For example, when combined with alcohol estrogen levels rise, and in turn may increase the risk of cancer. Learn more

Tobacco Use The leading cause of cancer death is the use of tobacco. Those that use tobacco, and those exposed to secondhand or environmental tobacco, are at risk. Learn more

Obesity Excess body weight contributes to as many as 1 in 5 cancer deaths from breast cancer, colon and endometrial cancers, and may raise the risk of ovarian cancer and others. The links between body weight and cancer are not fully understood. Childhood obesity may affect individuals in adulthood, as well. Affects may include the immune system; it’s function and inflammation. Hormone levels including insulin and estrogen may be affected, as well as factors that regulate cell growth. Learn more

Diet  Foods have been associated with increases and decreases in cancer risk. It is believed that a diet rich in a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits, fiber-filled whole grains and lower in red meats will reduce the risk of cancer. Further, that healthy food actually improves cellular health and lowers cancer risk. Learn more

Tanning Beds  Indoor tanning exposes the skin to two types of UV rays , UVA and UVB, which damage the skin and can lead to skin cancer and melanoma. Learn more

Drug Side Effects Hormone replacement therapy or HRT has been shown to increase risk of breast cancer in women. Learn more

The use of birth control pills may slightly increase the risk of breast cancer. Learn more

Exposure to the drug diethylstilbestrol or DES during pregnancy. In women that took the drug, and their daughters, have increased risk of breast cancer. DES is an estrogen-like drug thought to prevent miscarriage used through the early 1970’s. Learn more

The use of tamoxifen as an anti-estrogen in breast cancer treatment may act as an estrogen in the uterus causing an increased risk of endometrial cancer. Learn more at and

Alcohol The effects of alcohol are not completely understood. Studies have shown that alcohol can raise the body levels of estrogen, a hormone occurring naturally in the body. It can act as an irritant, and lower folate levels in the body, an important nutrient. Learn more

HPV Human papilloma viruses include more than 200 related viruses. Of these about a dozen are considered high risk HPV’s which can cause cancer, and two of them, HPV 16 and 18, are responsible for most HPV-caused cancers. Learn more

* This information does not include a complete list of all cancers and risk factors. It is provided for a better understanding of the disease and does not replace the dialogue you should have with your physician regarding screening and treatment for cancer.

Your Best Defense Against Cancer? Take control of your health to reduce your risk and advocate for yourself.

Stay away from tobacco
Get to and stay at a healthy weight
Get moving with regular physical activity
Eat healthy with plenty of fruits and vegetables
Limit alcohol, if you drink at all
Protect your skin with the daily use of sunscreen
Avoid tanning beds
Have your home tested for Radon
Know yourself, your family history, and your risks
Get regular check-ups and cancer screening tests
Perform self-exams regularly
Get vaccines for infection-related cancers