In 2005, it is estimated that 275,000 females will die of cancer. Of these, it is estimated that 27 percent will be due to lung/ bronchus cancer, 15 percent due to breast cancer, and 10 percent due to colon and rectal cancer.1 Lung and bronchus cancer, the leading cause of cancer death among women, is most prevalent among Black and White women. The rate of lung and bronchus cancer among Black women (averaged over the 5 years from 1997-2001) was 54.5 cases per 100,000 females, and the rate among White women was 51.3 per 100,000 females. Rates among other racial and ethnic groups were approximately half of those for Black and White women: 28.5 cases per 100,000 Asian/Pacific Islander women, 23.9 per 100,000 Hispanic women, and 23.4 per 100,000 American Indian/Alaska Native women.

While lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer among women. Over the period 1997-2001, rates of breast cancer were highest among White women, with a rate of 141.7 cases diagnosed per 100,000 females, followed by Black women, with a rate of 119.9 cases per 100,000 females. The rate of breast cancer among Asian/Pacific Islander women was 96.8 cases per 100,000, and Hispanic women had a rate of 89.6 cases per 100,000. The rate of breast cancer among American Indian/Alaska Native women, who had a rate of 54.2 cases per 100,000 females, was the lowest.

Rates of colon and rectal cancer appear to vary less dramatically across racial and ethnic groups. The highest rates were reported among Black women (56.5 cases per 100,000 females), followed by White women (45.9 cases per 100,000). Among the other three racial/ethnic groups, rates were approximately even: 38.6 cases per 100,000 Asian/Pacific Islander females, 32.7 per 100,000 American Indian/ Alaska Native women, and 32.5 per 100,000 Hispanic females.

Survival rates among women vary for each type of cancer. Of the most common types of cancer, lung and bronchus cancer has the lowest survival rate (17.2 percent), followed by colon and rectal cancer (63.1 percent) and breast cancer (87.7 percent).While the specific causes of cancer have not yet been identified, it appears to involve a combination of environmental, behavioral, and genetic factors. Adopting a healthy lifestyle by achieving optimal weight, exercising regularly, avoiding tobacco, eating nutritiously and reducing sun exposure may significantly reduce the risk of cancer.2 In addition, regular cancer screenings specific to women are recommended. Pap smears are recommended after sexual activity begins, or at the age of 21, whichever comes first, to screen for cervical cancer. Mammograms are recommended for women aged 40 years and older to screen for breast cancer and, for persons aged 50 and older, fecal occult blood testing and sigmoidoscopy are recommended to screen for colorectal cancer.3 A recent study has found that breastfeeding may also reduce the risk for premenopausal breast cancer and ovarian cancer.4

Graph: Leading Causes of Cancer Deaths for Females by Site[d]

Graph: Age Adjusted Malignant Lung and Bronchus Cancer Rates Among Females by Race/Ethnicity[d]

Graph: Age Adjusted Malignant Breast Cancer Rates Among Females by Race/Ethnicity[d]

Graph: Age Adjusted Malignant Colon and Rectal Cancer Rates Among Females by Race/Ethnicity[d]

1American Cancer Society. Cancer facts & figures 2005. Atlanta: The Society; 2005.

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Preventing and controlling cancer: the nation’s second leading cause of death 2004. February 2004.

3 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Guide to clinical preventive services. March 2004.

4 Labbok MH. Effects of breastfeeding on the mother. Pediatric Clinics of North America 2001; 48(1):143-157.