6 Most Common Cancers In Women

This informative article glosses on the types, diagnoses, common symptoms, and treatment options for most common cancers in women.

This informative article glosses on the types, diagnoses, common symptoms, and treatment options for the most common cancers in women.

Did you know that cancer affects more women than men in India? According to a study published in The Lancet Oncology, this is in stark contrast with the rest of the world, where cancer is 25% more prevalent in men compared to women.

While the reasons for this are not very clear, it is very possible that Indian women do not get as much access to healthcare as men do, especially in marginalized communities. Even urban Indian women do not prioritize their health and themselves, despite having better access to facilities, thanks to the patriarchal notion that they are born to serve their families.

The alarming rise of cancers in women

The rise in breast cancer among Indian women has also been very steep. It is the most common cancer, accounting for about 27% of all cancers among Indian women.

Gynaecological cancers that impact the female reproductive system closely follow, with uterine and cervical cancers being the top contributors to cancers in Indian women.

To start with, here is an informative article that lists 10 early symptoms of cancer in women. You can also watch it as a video here.

What are the most common cancers in women?

A cancer diagnosis can be emotionally, physically, and financially draining on the woman and her support system. While we will go into the treatment aspects later in this article based on the type of cancer, this is a very useful guide to health insurance plans for Indian women.

Some of these plans also cover certain types of cancers.

Never miss real stories from India's women.

Register Now

Breast cancer

The incidence of breast cancer among Indian women is now so high that, in all probabilities, every person reading this article will be aware of at least one woman affected by it. What is heartbreaking is that it is also one of the types of cancer that can be detected early, if one is aware of how to do a simple self-examination to catch symptoms early. Yet, we lose 1 in 2 Indian women to this disease.

Dr. Randeep Singh spoke to Women’s Web, stressing the importance of self-examination to catch potentially worrying symptoms.

There is more information here about the symptoms of breast cancer, how to correctly conduct a self-examination of your breast, some risk factors for breast cancer, and how early detection changes the course of treatment.

cancers in women

In another interview, Women’s Web spoke to Dr. Kumar Deep Dutta about how mammograms are an effective way to aid the early detection of breast cancer. He says that women do not take annual checks, fearing pain and a positive diagnosis.

Urging women to take charge of their health through annual mammograms, Dr. Kumar says, “Timely mammography can reduce mortality (death) by 28- 45%. Also, it is important to know that not every lump found in a mammogram is necessarily malignant.”.

But for someone who is confirmed to have breast cancer, there is still hope as the treatment options have expanded thanks to advancements in medical science. In an exclusive interview with Women’s Web, Dr. Nilesh Lokeshwar, an Oncologist, mentions that: “Modern treatment of breast cancer is a multimodality approach that includes local treatment (surgery and radiotherapy), and systemic treatment that includes chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and targeted therapy.”

You can find further information about these treatments, factors that decide treatment options, side effects, and alternate options for those who are unable to afford chemotherapies here.

The psychological issues that come with being diagnosed with breast cancer are not to be taken lightly, according to oncologist Dr. Radheshyam. Speaking to Women’s Web about the same, he says, “If mastectomy is required, it may lead to body image issues and feelings of loss of sexuality. Chemotherapy often results in the loss of hair. The patient may feel that she is alone, and nobody understands her, and therefore feel abandoned.”

If you have a loved one who is going through this difficult disease and need a professional’s advice on how to support them better, you can read further about what Dr. Radheshyam says about the emotional fallout of breast cancer here.

There are many stories of breast cancer survivors that inspire us to see how some women have turned around their lives positively, fighting the disease with conviction. The story of Shruti Sharma Anand and Neeti Leekha Chhabra, who founded Yes to Life, is one such and can be found in this inspiring interview with Women’s Web.

Cervical Cancer

Accounting for 18% of all cancer cases, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in Indian women.

The cervix is the lower part of a woman’s uterus, and cervical cancer is caused due to the HPV virus. This basic article lists the common symptoms of cervical cancer.

Just like breast cancer, early detection of cervical cancer can be the turning point that can change the course of treatment. A PAP smear can aid this and is very cost-effective. It involves examining cervical cells to check for abnormalities.

Here is an exclusive and complete guide on PAP smear, where Dr. Harveen Sethi details things like what to expect during the test, how often it must be done, who needs to get it done, and how the results of the test can be interpreted.

Given that prevention is better than cure, administering the HPV vaccine to young girls can be key to combating cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine can reduce the chance of getting cervical cancer by about 80%, says Dr. Ramesh Sarin, an oncologist.

common cancers in women

Vandana Chatterjee, who is a cervical cancer survivor, talks of how she was lucky to be diagnosed early thanks to a timely PAP smear. Due to this, she was able to treat it with just surgery.

Other than this, there is radiation therapy, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy that is advised by the oncologist based on how far the cancer has progressed.

As with all cancers, the physical and psychological effects of cervical cancer can be devastating for the women who experience it. It is important to support them through this process.

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian Cancer is the third most common cancer among Indian women. It is easy to treat in the early stages, the sad part is that it is difficult to detect it, and diagnosis usually happens only when the disease progresses to advanced stages.

The symptoms, along with local and systemic treatment options available, are detailed here.

The C-125 test which is a protein marker found in those with ovarian cancer is the most essential one to be done, other than a CT scan, vaginal sonography, and blood tests.

overian cancer Manisha Koirala

Manisha Koirala is an ovarian cancer survivor, who fought the disease successfully. Her TED Talk on how she found meaning in her life and turned it around in the face of a cancer diagnosis is inspiring.

The threat of relapse is present even if a survivor fights the disease once. Shanthala Damle, an ovarian cancer survivor, writes about how she tackles fears around relapse.

Uterine/Endometrial Cancer

cancer in women

The endometrium is the layer of cells lining the uterus, and the cancer that originates here is called endometrial cancer.

Since it causes abnormal bleeding, it is usually detected early. Bleeding between periods, pelvic pain, and sudden bleeding after menopause are some common symptoms that could indicate uterine cancer.

The causes of uterine cancer are still not clearly known, although recent research indicates that low levels of a certain gene may likely be the cause.

Some common factors that increase the risk of endometrial cancer are:

  • Changes in the balance of female hormones in the body.
  • More years of menstruation.
  • Never having been pregnant
  • Older age
  • Obesity

Oral contraceptive use for at least one year may reduce the risk of endometrial cancer.  But a patient must discuss this with a qualified doctor, as they also have other side effects.

Common treatments for uterine cancer include surgery (like hysterectomy), radiation therapy, medication, hormone therapy, and chemotherapy.

Vaginal & Vulvar Cancers

vulvar cancer in women

Vaginal cancer originates in the vagina, also called the birth canal of the female reproductive system, while vulvar cancer originates at the outer part of the female genitalia, called the vulva.

Symptoms of vaginal cancer are like that of cervical cancer, including

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • A change in bathroom habits
  • Pelvic pain

 Vulvar cancer presents a different set of more visible symptoms

  • Skin changes in the vulva, like rashes or warts, and skin colour changes.
  • Sores and ulcers on the vulva that do not heal.
  • Itching, bleeding, and burning on the vulva that doesn’t resolve
  • Pelvic pain while urinating or during intercourse.

Some risk factors for both these cancers include long-term HPV infections, vulvar/vaginal precancer, diseases that weaken the immune system, smoking, cervical precancer or cancer, and chronic vulvar itching or burning.

The HPV vaccine also protects women from these cancers. This highlights the need to make it a part of the national immunization scheme so that underprivileged women in India are also protected against these deadly cancers.

Treatment options are surgery (including vaginectomy and vulvectomy), radiation therapy, and in some cases, chemotherapy. Vulval and vaginal reconstruction may be done for those who undergo surgery.

Fallopian tube cancer

Fallopian cancer

These are the rarer types, comprising only 1-2% of all gynaecological cancers.

Fallopian tube cancer originates in the fallopian tubes, which connect the ovaries to the uterus. Although it can occur at any age, it typically affects women between 50 and 60. Only about 2000 cases of fallopian tube cancer have been reported worldwide, and this makes it difficult to study the cause. The symptoms and diagnosis are similar to those of cervical cancer.

Treatment includes hysterectomy and targeted therapy. Research is still in progress about newer treatments.

Recommended read:

Image Credit: Created on canvapro

Liked this post?

Join the 100000 women at Women's Web who get our weekly mailer and never miss out on our events, contests & best reads - you can also start sharing your own ideas and experiences with thousands of other women here!

Check with your doctor first

At Women's Web we try to bring you information on Fitness & Wellness topics of interest to you. This is not, however diagnostic or prescriptive information, so please do consult your doctor or therapist before using any of it.


About the Author

Jayashree Ravi

An engineer turned SAHM of two who wants to be known beyond that. Passionate about words, parenting, making eco-friendly choices, feminism and lifelong learning. read more...

26 Posts | 17,724 Views

Stay updated with our Weekly Newsletter or Daily Summary - or both!

All Categories