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Minority Women's Health

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Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells grow, divide, and spread. In most cancers, these abnormal cells form a mass called a tumor. (Not all tumors are cancer.) Cancers found in the blood or immune system do not form tumors. Most cancers are named for where they start. For example, lung cancer starts in the lung, and breast cancer starts in the breast. But cancers can spread. They can invade nearby tissues and organs. Or, they can break away and spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms and treatment depend on the cancer type and how advanced it is.

Latinos have lower rates of new cancer cases than other minority groups. And, when you combine all types of cancer, they have lower death rates compared to other groups. But Latinos have higher rates of certain cancers that are linked to infections. These include cancers of the stomach, liver, and cervix.

A number of factors can affect a woman's cancer risk. Some factors, such as getting older and family history, cannot be controlled. Yet, you can lower your risk of some cancers by changing some aspects of your life:

  • Don't smoke. If you smoke, try to quit. For help along the way, check out our Quitting Smoking section.
  • Keep a healthy weight.
  • Eat healthy foods. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Make physical activity a habit. Health benefits are gained by doing the following each week:
    • 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
    • 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
    • A combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity
    • Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days of the week
  • Limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day.

Women also can protect themselves from cancer by getting regular checkups and screenings. Screening tests can help find cancers such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, and colorectal cancer. This way, if cancer develops, it is likely to be found early. Treatment often works best when cancer is found early. Also, there is a vaccine that can protect women from infections that can cause cervical cancer.

Many Latinos don't get routine screening tests or checkups. Not having health insurance, a regular doctor, or ability to pay are important reasons why Latinos have lower screening rates. Some people don't understand risk factors for cancer or the benefits of screening. One study found that many Latinas think that nothing can be done to stop breast cancer, so they do not get screening. These reasons also explain why some Latinos don't always stick with cancer treatment once cancer is found.

We don't always know why one person develops cancer and another does not. Yet with a healthy lifestyle and routine screening, you will feel good knowing you are doing what you can to lower your cancer risk.

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Content last updated: May 18, 2010.

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