5 health conditions women need to know about

Get to know these health conditions that only affect, or are much more likely to occur in, women

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HPV and cervical cancer

Cervical cancer has been linked to a virus that is transmitted through sexual intercourse. The human papilloma virus (HPV) is thought to target a number of genes within cells including a tumour suppressor gene called p53. Loss of p53 can lead to a cell becoming cancerous.

The earlier cervical cancer is treated, the better the chance of survival. In the first stage of cervical cancer, in which the disease is confined to the cervix itself, 80 percent of women live more than five years. Once cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, such as the lungs, only 5 percent of women live more than five years.

Learn more about cervical cancer and HPV

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With endometriosis, fragments of the uterine lining (endometrium) are deposited elsewhere in the body – typically in or on the Fallopian tubes, on the ovaries, behind the uterus, or on the bowel, bladder or pelvic wall, but sometimes in abdominal scars or even the lungs.

Endometriosis can begin at any time from the onset of menstruation to the menopause. You are more at risk if you have a family history, a menstrual cycle shorter than 28 days and if your periods last more than a week. The main symptom is pelvic pain. Other endometriosis symptoms include bloating, fatigue, painful periods, painful sex, painful bowel movements, constipation, painful and frequent urination or blood in the urine during periods, and infertility.

Learn more about endometriosis

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Bone loss is mainly a depletion of the mineral calcium. It affects more women than men because the hormone estrogen plays a crucial role in the female body’s ability to use dietary calcium to build new bone. When you approach or are in menopause, the reduction in your body’s estrogen production deprives your bones of the calcium they need. Some 20 to 30 percent of bone loss in women occurs in the first five years after menopause. Osteopenia often develops during this critical time. Without treatment, this bone-thinning condition can lead to osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis can also occur in younger women whose estrogen levels fall after hysterectomy or in athletes whose ability to produce estrogen may be hindered by low body fat.

Learn more about osteoporosis

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Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is hard to detect because there are no early symptoms, and later ones are vague and can mimic common disorders.

Ovarian cancer develops in one of the ovaries, the almond-size egg-producing reproductive organs on either side of the uterus. When a woman ovulates, an egg bursts through the wall of the ovary. To repair the hole, ovarian cells must divide and reproduce. As in all cancers, when cell division gets out of control, a tumour forms.

In about 70 percent of cases, ovarian cancer is not diagnosed until it has spread to other parts of the body. At that stage, survival rates are between 20 and 25 percent. Women who are treated before the cancer has spread have an 85 to 90 percent chance of cure.

Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof screening test for ovarian cancer. In the later stages, your doctor can feel a tumour during a pelvic exam or see it on an ultrasound. She may remove a tiny sample of cells to check them for cancer under the microscope.

Most cases of ovarian cancer occur in women over 50. Your risk is higher if a close relative has had ovarian cancer or if you have the BRCA1 gene (which also influences breast cancer risk). If you have the gene, you have about a 45 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer; women without the gene have a two percent lifetime risk.

Learn more about ovarian cancer

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Urinary Tract Infection

If this is your first urinary tract infection (UTI), you can take solace in the fact that you’re not alone: more than 10 percent of women suffer from a UTI at least once a year. Treatment may now be only a phone call away, and you could feel better in a single day.

Most urinary tract infections are called “lower UTIs,” meaning the germs have taken hold in your urethra (a condition called urethritis) or in your bladder (a condition called cystitis). If the germs travel farther, an “upper UTI” can develop, affecting the narrow tubes (ureters) leading to the kidneys or even the kidneys themselves. This potentially serious infection is known as pyelonephritis.

Between 80 and 90 percent of urinary tract infections are caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli), a bacterium usually confined to the colon and rectum that can spread from the anus to the urethra. Because a woman’s urethra is relatively short, women are more prone to UTIs than men (whose much longer urethra in the penis makes it harder for the bacteria to travel to the bladder). After menopause, some women are increasingly susceptible to infection because of a lack of estrogen.

Learn more about Urinary Tract Infections

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