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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.

Cancer is a leading cause of death in Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander women. The most common cancers found in Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander women include breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and lung cancer. Compared to non-Hispanic white women, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander women are more likely to have cancer diagnosed at a later, advanced stage. This explains, in part, why Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women have poorer survival rates compared to non-Hispanic white women.

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. Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander women are less likely to get regular cancer screenings than women in other groups. 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. A vaccine given can protect women from infections that can cause cervical cancer.

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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More information on cancer

Read more from womenshealth.gov

  • Ovarian Cancer Fact Sheet - This fact sheet explains what ovarian cancer is, why you should be concerned about it, and where you can get more information.
  • Skin Cancer Fact Sheet - This fact sheet provides basic information on skin cancer, why you should be concerned about it, and where you can get more information.

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Content last updated: May 18, 2010.

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