Female Reproductive Cancers


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In history, women got more cancers than men, though this subsequently changed thanks to smoking habits and occupational exposures which both affected men more greatly. One of the reasons that women got more than their share is that there are several cancers of the female reproductive organs:

Cervical cancer seems the easiest to explain as it seems very strongly linked to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Most cervical tumors seem to contain HPV DNA. Furthermore, there is circumstantial evidence of the sexual nature of cervical cancer: nuns rarely get cervix cancer, but prostitutes commonly do. So it seems likely cervical cancer is triggered by exposure to the sexual environment rather than by internal hormones.

Breast cancer and ovarian cancer seem very strongly linked. They are also strongly influenced by factors that change the reproductive cycles. However, the breast glands and ovaries are not really accessible to sexual viruses or the tissue breakdown of menstruation. This tends to indicate that these cancers are influenced by hormonal fluctuations rather than any environmental factors. In fact, it seems that most things that prevent ovulation will delay or protect against not only ovarian cancer, but also breast cancer:

  • Having children earlier: early motherhood is protective against breast and ovarian cancer; nuns who have no children have high rates of breast cancer.
  • Contraceptive pills: reduces ovarian cancer
  • Breast feeding: reduces ovarian cancer
  • Ovary removal: reduced breast cancer incidence in rats; obviously avoids ovarian
  • Polycystic ovaries: inhibits ovulation, reduces ovarian cancer

There are several factors that may have contributed to a rise in general breast cancer rates. Several social factors meant that women had more cycles earier: earlier menarche (better diet), delayed child-bearing, and less breast feeding. However, earlier and better diagnosis may also play a part.

Another interesting point is that men can get breast cancer, but do not have the same menstrual hormonal fluctuations. Breast cancer can occur rarely in men, but they do not have ovaries or menses. There is about a 1-to-200 ratio of men to women with breast cancer, which may reflect that men get random DNA mutation cancers whereas female breast cancer is highly impacted by hormonal cycles.

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