The cancers that most frequently affect men are prostate, lung, colorectal and skin. Women are affected most by breast, lung, colorectal, endometrial, ovarian, cervical and skin cancer. Knowing about these cancers and how they can be prevented or detected early can save your life. The American Cancer Society offers the following facts:
- Facts: Each year, about 234,460 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and 27,350 will die from it. If it is detected early, it can be treated effectively, but early prostate cancer has no symptoms.
- Risk Factors: Most cases of prostate cancer occur in men older than 50, and more than 70 percent of these cases are in men over age 65. African-American men are significantly more likely than white men to develop prostate cancer and are more likely to die from it. Having one or more close relatives with prostate cancer also increases a man's risk of developing it.
- Early Detection: Prostate cancer can usually be detected in its early stages by a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and a digital rectal exam (DRE).
- Facts: Lung cancer claims more lives than any other cancer. Every year, it strikes more than 90,000 men and 75,000 women. An estimated 68,000 will die from the disease.
- Risk Factors: People who smoke are at the greatest risk of getting lung cancer and a host of other tobacco-related diseases such as heart disease, stroke and emphysema. Smoking is responsible for 87 percent of all lung cancers. Other risk factors include exposure to radon and asbestos, particularly for smokers.
- Prevention: Lung cancer is one of the few cancers that can be prevented because almost all of it is caused by smoking. If you are a smoker, ask your health care provider to help you quit. If you don't smoke, don't start. If your friends and loved ones are smokers, help them quit.
- Facts: Colorectal cancer is a disease of the lower digestive tract. About 106,680 people will be diagnosed with it this year, and about 49,200 will die of it. This cancer is very highly treatable if caught early.
- Risk Factors: Most colorectal cancers and polyps are found in people over age 50. People with a personal history of colorectal cancer, polyps in the colon or rectum, inflammatory bowel disease, or a family history of the disease are at somewhat greater risk than the general population. Smoking, lack of exercise, obesity and diets high in fat and low in fiber may also put people at higher risk. Since removing polyps has been shown to prevent colorectal cancer, regular screening can reduce risk.
- Prevention and Early Detection: Most colorectal cancers begin as polyps which later become cancerous. If the polyps are found early, they can be removed before cancer develops. Eating a diet that is low in fat and rich in fruits and vegetables may also lower the risk of colorectal cancer. Remarkable advances have been made in the treatment of this cancer, and few survivors have colostomies or wear external bags anymore. Don't be afraid to talk about colorectal cancer with your doctor. An early diagnosis may save your life.
- Facts: Although there are more than 1 million cases of skin cancer each year, most of these cancers are easily treated and cured. One type of skin cancer, melanoma, is deadly if not treated early. The number of new cases is increasing rapidly in both men and women.
- Risk Factors: People with fair complexions, especially redheads, have a greater risk of getting this type of cancer than people with darker coloring, although anyone who spends a lot of time in the sun is at risk. People who have had close family members with a melanoma are at higher risk, as are people who had severe sunburns before age 18. It is especially important to protect children from sun exposure.
- Prevention and Early Detection: Avoiding prolonged exposure to the sun, especially during the midday hours, can prevent most skin cancers. Wear protective clothing -- hats with brims, long-sleeved shirts, sunglasses -- and use sunscreen on all exposed skin. Examine your skin regularly and have a skin cancer exam during your regular health check-ups.
- Facts: About 9,710 cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed each year. Most of these will be caught early and cured, although about 3,700 these cases will still result in death. In certain groups of women, including women past the child-bearing years who do not regularly see a gynecologist, cervical cancer is more commonly found in advanced stages when cure is less likely.
- Risk Factors: Cervical cancer can affect any woman who is or has been sexually active. Risk is higher in women who have had multiple partners. Older women and women without access to regular medical care are especially vulnerable if they do not have regular Pap tests and gynecologic exams. Women with genital warts, women who smoke and women infected with HIV are also at increased risk.
- Early Detection: Thanks to the Pap test, cervical cancer has become a relatively rare cancer in the United States. A Pap test can detect changes in the cervix that can be treated before they become cancer. The Pap test also is very effective in detecting cervical cancer in its early stages before it has spread to other parts of the body when it is highly curable.
- Facts: Approximately 20,180 cases of ovarian cancer occur annually, and it causes 15,310 deaths, more than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. This is largely because the signs and symptoms of early ovarian cancer are often subtle and non-specific.
- Risk Factors: The risk of getting ovarian cancer increases with age. Women who have never had children, who have a family history of ovarian cancer and who have had breast cancer are at somewhat higher risk. Most women who get ovarian cancer do not have any of these risk factors. Pregnancy or the use of oral contraceptives decreases the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Regular Check-ups: Periodic, thorough pelvic exams are important. Unfortunately, no effective and proven tests for detecting the disease early are available. The Pap test only rarely detects ovarian cancer and usually in its late stages.
- Facts: Each year about 41,200 cases of cancer of the body of the uterus occur, most often in the endometrium (inside lining) of the uterus. About 7,350 women die of this cancer annually.
- Risk Factors: Endometrial cancer occurs most often in women over age 50. Estrogen replacement therapy, use of tamoxifen for breast cancer treatment or risk reduction, early onset of menstrual periods, late menopause, history of infertility, never having had children, obesity and diabetes increase a woman's risk of this disease. Pregnancy and the use of oral contraceptives appear to provide some protection against this type of cancer.
- Early Detection: Watch for signs and symptoms, such as abnormal spotting or bleeding from the uterus. At menopause, women at high risk should have a tissue sample or biopsy taken from the endometrium for evaluation. The Pap test is not reliable for early diagnosis of endometrial cancer.
Early detection -- finding cancer early before it has spread -- gives men and women the best chance of being treated successfully. Too many people die each year from cancer, but you can reduce the risk for some cancers by adopting certain behaviors -- stopping smoking, losing weight, exercising more, using sunscreen.