Cancer is a disease in which certain cells in the body don’t function properly—they di­vide too fast and/or produce excessive tissue that forms a tumor. There are a number of different cancers that can affect the female reproductive organs. In this section, we will look at breast, uterine, cervical, endometrial, and ovarian cancers. We will also review preventive measures for detecting or avoiding common female health problems. In Chapter 14, we will discuss how these illnesses affect women’s lives and sexuality.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the world (Parkin et al., 2005). One in seven American women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime (American Cancer Society, 2005a). In the United States, an estimated 211,240 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to occur in 2005, and approximately 40,410 women were expected to die (American Cancer Society, 2005b).

White women are more likely to develop breast cancer than African American women; however, white women are less likely to die from it. African American women have a 20% higher death rate from all cancers (Chlebowski et al., 2005; Jemal et al., 2005). Deaths from breast cancer have significantly decreased since the 1990s, probably due to earlier detection and improved treatment procedures.