Cancer Prevention Is an Option Available to Women – Are You Ready to Take It?

Breast and gynaecological cancers account for around fifty percent of all cancers affecting women, both in India and around the world. Unlike other malignancies, these cancers are preventable to a large extent. All it takes is a little awareness as to what to do and what not to and go for certain check-ups and tests as indicated; you will be surprised to learn this can reduce your risk by around 80 percent.


To begin with, a healthy life style is a definite pre-requisite to shun cancer. By healthy, I mean eating healthy, doing moderate exercises, avoiding tobacco and alcohol and lowering stress levels.

It helps to have at least two full cups of vegetables and fruits per day and adding whole grain, millets and nuts to your diet. But remember, it is an absolute NO to processed and tinned foods.

To stay ahead, we need to start early. These lifestyle changes are more effective when started in our adolescent girls. Adolescent obesity is a pandemic now. This is a forerunner of a huge gamut of health problems like polycystic ovaries, irregular menstrual cycles, infertility issues, diabetes and even uterine cancer. Regular menstruation is a natural protection against uterine cancer. Hence, it is important that our girls understand the importance of maintaining weight and staying fit. In addition, if they have persistent irregular cycles, it is best that they contact a gynaecologist for cyclical hormonal pills which can reduce their cancer risk by 50 percent.

We need to spread the information that cervical cancer, which is a cancer affecting the mouth of the uterus, is caused by a virus called human papilloma virus, acquired by sexual activity. There is a higher risk of the infection developing into cancer with early onset of sexual activity. Hence, we must reiterate the importance of safe sex practices, particularly among young girls. Additionally, now we have a vaccine, the HPV vaccine that can be given to our girls between 9 and 15 years or a catch-up vaccination up to 26 years which can prevent cervical cancer to a great extent.

Not all cancers are amenable for screening. Screening is a method by which tests are carried out on healthy people without symptoms, to detect a pre cancer or early cancer. It is fortunate that the two most common cancers affecting women, namely breast and cervical cancer have excellent screening methods.

Women must be breast aware and begin monthly breast self-examination by 35 years of age. This can be complimented by a clinical breast examination by a specialist every six months. The annual mammogram typically begins at forty years in India because of the higher incidence of breast cancers in young women here.

Likewise, for cervical cancer screening, we have the Pap smear and HPV DNA testing which are simple outpatient tests to be done on women after 30 years at least and repeated every 3 to 5 years depending on the tests taken.

In India, it is common practice for women to undergo family planning by tubal sterilisation. In this surgery, a part of the fallopian tube is removed. If we remove the entire fallopian tube instead of a portion, it serves a dual purpose of both family planning as well as prevention of ovarian cancer. This procedure is called opportunistic salpingectomy and can also be combined with other abdominal surgeries like appendectomy, hernia repair, etc.

Lastly, we need to understand that a small percentage of cancers can have a hereditary background. So, if there is a clustering of cancers among family members, it is advisable to consult a cancer specialist to identify the possibility of a genetic cancer syndrome and also for appropriate tests and risk-reducing strategies.

These are simple but immensely effective steps to prevent the most common cancers affecting women. In addition, we must understand that cancers detected in very early stages are absolutely curable and also require limited and less extensive treatments.

So, are you ready for a makeover to a healthier version of youself? Start by taking small steps every day and eventually you will get there.


Dr. Kavitha Sukumar
Consultant Breast & Gynaecologist Cancer Surgical Oncologist
Kauvery Hospital, Chennai