Congresswoman’s Death Turns Spotlight on Women and Cancer
7 years ago
Lung, Breast and Colon Cancer are Leading Women’s Cancer Killers African American Women Bear Greater Cancer Burden The death of Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, a seven-term congresswoman from southern California, on Saturday, serves as a sober reminder for women of the dangers of cancer, according to the Society for Women’s Health Research, a Washington, D.C. based advocacy organization focused on health differences between women and men. “Our sympathies are with the family of Rep. Millender-McDonald,” said Sherry Marts, vice president of scientific affairs for the Society for Women’s Health Research. “She was a tremendous public servant who worked tirelessly on behalf of her constituents and all Americans. I hope that American women will take note of her untimely death and recognize the importance of cancer prevention and screening. Cancer is the second leading killer of women and we must be vigilant in our efforts to prevent, detect early and treat this deadly disease.” Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of women, followed by breast cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, and ovarian cancer. All adult women should see a doctor annually and ask about what screenings they need based on their age and other factors. Women ages 40 and older should have a mammogram every one to two years, according to the Society’s book “The Savvy Woman Patient: How and Why Sex Differences Affect Your Health” (Capital Books, 2006). To help prevent colon cancer, the book says, every woman should receive a colonoscopy exam once every 10 years beginning at age 50. “Deaths from breast cancer and colon cancer have been on the decline recently, thanks to screening efforts that catch cancer early or detect pre-cancerous growths that can be monitored or treated,” Marts said. “Unfortunately, gains in these two areas have been slower for African Americans. We have to do a better job of making sure minority communities understand the importance of cancer screenings and have affordable access to care.” Rep. Millender-McDonald was African American. “To prevent lung cancer, obviously, the best thing you can do is not smoke,” Marts said. “Some studies show that women have a harder time quitting smoking than men. So, if you do smoke, don’t be afraid to seek professional help and social support. “For ovarian, cervical and other gynecologic cancers, women should receive a Pap test and pelvic examination every one to three years once they become sexually active and no later than age 21. Women over 65 should talk to their doctors about how often they need these exams.” Tremendous advances have been made in the prevention of cervical cancer with the June 2006 FDA approval of a vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV) for women ages 9-26. The vaccine protects against two strands of HPV (16 and 18) which cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. “The approval of a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer is a great step forward in women’s health,” Marts said. “We are hopeful that more cancer vaccines will become a reality in the near future.” In the United States, more than 10,000 women were estimated to have developed cervical cancer in 2005, and nearly 4,000 died. Of American women who develop cervical cancer, about half have never had a Pap test and an additional 10 percent have not had a Pap test in the last five years. “Cancer is a scary thing,” Marts said, “but our ability to prevent, detect and treat it is improving quickly. As women, we have to be aware of our unique cancer risks and seek appropriate care and timely screenings.” ### Visit http://www.womenshealthresearch.org to learn more.