Most common cancers in females below 40

Most common cancers in females below 40
January 15, 2014 11:18 AM

How much do you know about cancer? For most, the word cancer means end of their lives. But the trends are changing now. People, especially women, are getting more aware about this potentially lethal condition which is now curable if diagnosis is made in early stages. How common do you think cancer is in females?

According to some researches, in the UK alone 22 thousand new cases of cancer were reported between the years 2008-2010 as compared to only 11000 new cases of male cancer. Female cancer has now become a global issue because of the ever increasing burden of breast cancer. Worldwide studies have shown that breast cancer alone accounts for 23% cases of all cancers globally. This cancer is 100 times more common in females as compared to females.

But female cancer is not all about breast cancer and old age. A general perception, which makes cancer even more fatal, is that people think of it as a disease of old age. You might be young and physically and mentally active but don’t let the power of youth fool you. You should not ignore any physical change that might occur in young age as it might be the indicative of cancer. In the text to follow is the list of top 3 cancers that are most common in young women. Read on to know the enemy that threatens your life and ways to defeat that enemy. 

Breast cancer 

Breast cancer is the greatest havoc that women of any age could face. Whether you’re a young woman of 20 years or an adult of 40 years, breast cancer is the leading type of cancer in all age groups. According to global estimate, breast cancer causes half a million death in females annually. The stats related to breast cancer are alarming, aren’t they? This condition might be lethal but proper diagnosis and treatment can totally cure breast cancer. Following is the complete guide to everything you need to know about breast cancer. 

What are different breast cancers?

Before we can move on to know the different types of breast cancers, you need to know some basics. A normal female breast consists of two main things: a series of ducts and lobules that are associated with the production of milk, surrounding this milk producing system is fats and fibrous tissues that serve to give shape to the breast. The main ducts split in secondary milk ducts and these ducts end in grape like structures called lobules. Now that we know these basics, we can move on to know different types of breast cancer. 

  • The first in the list of most common breast cancers is the Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS). The milk ducts of female breasts are lined by cells that look like very tinny cubes. In this type of carcinoma, the shape of cells gets distorted. But this carcinoma is non invasive and doesn’t spread to surrounding breast tissues. 
  • Second in this list is the Lobular Carcinoma in Situ. This is the cancer of grape like structures in which the milk ducts end. This is another non invasive cancer. 
  • The third in this list is Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, if you’ve read the basics above you can easily predict what this cancer really is. This is a cancer of the milk ducts. What makes it different from DCIS? It’s more dangerous and malignant form of cancer that can invade surrounding breast tissues and can even spread to other structures like bones, lungs and liver. 
  • The last in the list of most common breast cancers in females is the Invasive Lobular Carcinoma. This is the cancer of lobules that can spread to other sites. 

Is breast cancer malignant?

Well, not all breast cancers are malignant. For instance DCIS is a non invasive tumor. But majority of breast cancers are malignant like Invasive Ductal carcinoma and Invasive Lobular carcinoma. These cancers can spread through the lymph system to several vital organs like lungs, liver and bones. 

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of breast cancer are quite specific and you might sometimes feel a lump in your breast or arm pit that clearly feels different than the rest of breast tissues. However, some most common symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • You might experience constant pain in your breast. 
  • You might experience redness around your nipples. 
  • Sometimes there is a discharge from nipples. 
  • The shape of nipples gets disturbed. Nipples might get inverted or everted in shape. 
  • You might feel a solid mass in your arm pit or around your collar bone. 
  • In addition you might experience general symptoms of cancer including weight loss, malaise, fatigue and fever. 

If you experience any of these symptoms or any other unusual change in your breast then you should rush to your Doctor. The Doctor would confirm the presence of a tumor through physical examination and through Mammography. 

What are the treatment options?

The treatment of breast cancer depends on a number of variables including patient’s health, type of cancer, stage of cancer and chances of recurrence. Following are most important treatment options when it comes to the treatment of breast cancer (4):

  • The first choice is surgery. Surgery is done both in benign and malignant cancers. In case of malignant cancers the surgery is effective if done in initial stages and surgery is almost always combined with adjuvant therapies like radiation therapies and medications. The degree of breast removal depends on the extent of spread. In some cases the removal of one part of breast is enough. In other cases entire breast has to be removed. 
  • The second line therapies include chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Chemotherapy is used in addition to surgery. Although surgery might remove lump in your breast it won’t remove the cancer that has already spread inside your body. For that purpose you might have to use medications after surgery. 

Radiations are usually used after surgery in order to prevent recurrence of cancer. 

Malignant Melanoma

Second in our list is malignant melanoma. According Cancer research, UK malignant melanoma is the second most type of cancer diagnosed in females in the UK. According to some reports at least 9% of the total cases of female cancer reported in the UK belong to this category of cancer. 

What is malignant melanoma?

Same as before, you need to know the basics before you can understand some complex concepts. Your skin has several layers that serve as a barrier between your body and the surroundings. These layers are made of several cells; melanocytes are one of those cells. These cells are responsible for imparting different colors to our skin and protect us from harmful UV light. Malignant melanoma is nothing but abnormal growth of these melanocytes. 

As far as the types of malignant melanoma are concerned, there are two main types: superficially spreading melanoma and nodular melanoma. 

  • Superficially spreading melanoma spreads outwards instead of spreading inwards. To put in simple words this type of cancer increases in spread but doesn’t penetrate the deeper layers of skin. This property makes it less dangerous because it remains benign as long as it remains in the superficial layers and doesn’t penetrate the deeper layers. 
  • The second most common type of malignant melanoma is nodular melanoma. What makes it different from the superficially spreading melanoma is its ability to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin instead of spreading outwards. This type of cancer becomes malignant very quickly. 

Is this cancer malignant?

You would have guessed by its name that this type of cancer is malignant. Superficially spreading melanoma might be benign in initial stage but would become malignant in later stages when it starts penetrating in the deeper layers of the skin. 

What are the symptoms?

Following is the list of symptoms that would help you identify that cancer you’re having is a malignant melanoma:

  • You might notice an abnormal coloration on your skin. 
  • The skin gets itchy and painful. 
  • You might notice a lump on your skin. 
  • Sometimes this cancer can present itself in the form of moles. 
  • In addition you might experience general symptoms of cancer including weight loss, malaise, fatigue and fever. 

What are the treatment options?

Doctors usually have different treatment options when it comes to malignant melanoma. The choice treatment depends on a number of variables like type of cancer, its general spread, its stage, general health of the patients etc. Keeping in mind these variables, your physician might suggest you following treatments:

  • If the cancer is small and localized then the first choice of Doctors would be to go for surgery
  • Radiation therapy is usually used as an adjuvant to surgery. 
  • If the spread of cancer is beyond the scope of surgery and cancer has spread to far off places in the body then the option is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy kills rapidly dividing cells that might be present anywhere in the body, including both cancer cells and normal cells like scalp hair cells and GIT cells. 

Cervical cancer 

The third most cancer among women is the cancer of cervix of cervical cancer. According to some studies the prevalence of cervical cancer in UK alone is 9% of the total cancer burden in females and it is the third most common type of cancer in females after breast cancer and malignant melanoma.

What is cervical cancer? 

Same as always you need to know some basic stuff. Cervix is a slit like structure present at the junction of vagina and uterus. It consists of two main things: a squamous cell (cube like cells) that cover it and several glands that keep it moist all the times. Both these things are the target of cancer. 

  • The first type of cervical cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. The cube like cells that were previously covering the cervix are now numerous in number and distorted in shape. 
  • The second type of cancer is the cancer of glands that function to keep the cervix moist. This type of cancer is known as the adenocarcinoma of cervix

Is cervical cancer malignant?

Yes, this is a malignant cancer and this is perhaps the third most common cause of malignancy in females. 

What are the symptoms?

The problem with this cancer is that it spreads completely without any symptoms in its initial stages. As it is inside your body, you can’t see it. So the cancer has already progressed to a malignant tumor when specific symptoms start appearing. But some symptoms are related to this cancer that can be considered as warning shots (9):

  • You might experience abnormal vaginal bleeding. 
  • You might experience pain during intercourse. 
  • In addition you might experience general symptoms of cancer including weight loss, malaise, fatigue and fever. 

What are the treatment options?

The treatment protocols of this cancer vary greatly. However, the selection of treatment depends on the stage and spread of tumor. Treatment options include:

  • If the spread of tumor is minimal then surgeons only remove uterus. Removal of uterus also removes the affected cervix. If there is minimal spread of cancer then surgeons combine the removal of uterus with the removal of regional lymph node because in initial stages the cancer only spread to the nearby lymph nodes. 
  • If the spread is more than removal of uterus is combined with radiation therapy. This method is particularly effective when spread is present but is not extensive. 
  • If extensive spread is present then Doctors combine removal of uterus with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy actively kills any rapidly dividing cells that might be present in the body. These cells can include abnormal cancer cells or normal cells of skin, scalp hair and gut. That’s why hair loss, baldness, GIT upset and blood abnormalities are common adverse effects of chemotherapy. 
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Written by: Michal Vilímovský (EN)
Education: Medical student, 3rd Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
Published: January 15, 2014 11:18 AM
Next scheduled update: January 15, 2016 11:18 AM
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