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10 Cancer Symptoms Women Shouldn't Ignore

You don't need to panic, but you shouldn't assume these signs are 'nothing,' either. Plus three ways to lower your risk.

The Bottom Line

Watch for all of these symptoms, but remember: While it's important to be on the alert for physical changes, "we don't want to [cause] too much alarm,"  Karlan says.

If you notice something different about your body, get it checked out. Most likely it's not cancer, but if it is, she says, "cancer is treatable, often it's curable, and clearly having a diagnosis earlier will allow you to have the most benefit possible from current health care advances and to live as full a life as prior to a diagnosis."

Caryl Engstrom agrees. "It's all about early diagnosis. At the stage I was diagnosed, it was completely treatable," she says. Getting confirmation she had breast cancer was "the worst part." The treatment -- a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation -- "wasn't that difficult," she says. "I found it all very manageable."

Today, years after being diagnosed and treated, Engstrom is in remission, despite having what turned out to be a very fast-growing cancer. She still gets screening tests, too. For her, picking up the phone right away was the best thing she could do for her health -- and her life.

3 Ways to Lower Your Cancer Risk

Know thyself. Make a family health tree. "Know your family history," Karlan says. "Know what you're at risk for," so you can focus on screening tests and prevention. Also, you're just as likely to inherit your risk of breast and ovarian cancer from your father's side of the family as from your mom's, she says.

Check your BMI. Make it a habit to know your body mass index, and keep it under 25 -- the dividing line for being overweight, Karlan says. Regular exercise can lower blood estrogen levels, which helps cut your risk of breast cancer.

Schedule screening tests. "Make sure you get a colonoscopy if you're 50 or older," Runowicz says. And schedule regular Pap smears (starting 3 years after first intercourse or no later than age 21) as well as mammograms after 40, according to the American Cancer Society.

Reviewed on January 22, 2014

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