Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Women's Health

Font Size

Women's Top 5 Health Concerns

From heart disease to breast cancer to depression, WebMD gives you the inside info on why women are at high risk for these problems but may not know it.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. It is second to lung cancer as the leading cause of death for women.

Experts say the fear of breast cancer can sometimes be exaggerated, stopping women from going to their doctors for screening, or pushing women to make rash decisions about mastectomy, when it may it may not be necessary.

"There's a lot of treatment for breast cancer," assures Diane Helentjaris, MD, immediate past president of the American Medical Women's Association. "It's not a death sentence."

She urges women to keep their emotions in perspective and to educate themselves about the issues.

The American Cancer Society lists the following as risk factors for breast cancer:

  • Increasing age
  • Genes. Nearly 5% to 10% of breast cancer is linked to mutations in certain genes (most commonly, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes).
  • Family history of the disease
  • Personal history of the disease
  • Race. White women have a slightly greater risk of getting breast cancer compared with African-American women. Yet African-Americans have a greater chance of dying from this disease.
  • Earlier abnormal breast biopsy
  • Earlier chest radiation
  • Early onset of menstruation (before age 12) or menopause after age 55
  • Not having children
  • Medication use, such as diethylstilbestrol (DES)
  • Too much alcohol
  • Obesity

Stephen F. Sener, MD, president of the American Cancer Society, recommends controlling your weight, exercising, quitting smoking, and talking to your doctor about your risk and appropriate screening for breast cancer. He also says to keep risk factors in perspective.

"Just because your mother didn't have breast cancer, it does not mean you are immune to this problem," says Sener. At the same time, it's also important to note that some women who have one or more risk factors never get breast cancer.

Osteoporosis

Hunched backs, back pain, and frailty used to be things older women had to accept before doctors knew anything more about osteoporosis. Now, there are steps women and girls can take to avoid such problems.

Osteoporosis threatens 44 million Americans, of which 68% are women, reports the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

"Osteoporosis is largely preventable," says Mark. "The behaviors that women develop in their childhood, in their adolescence, and in their early adult years really play a significant role in the development of the disease."

That's because bodies build up most of bone mass until age 30. Then new bone stops forming and the focus is on maintenance of old bone.

It is never too late to keep bones strong and avoid fractures.

"Your body will do what it can to repair bone damage, but you have to provide the tools for it, such as adequate calcium consumption and weight-bearing physical activity," says Mark.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Female sex
  • Increasing age
  • Small, thin-boned frame
  • Ethnicity. White and Asian women have the greatest risk.
  • Family history
  • Sex hormones. Infrequent menstrual cycles and estrogen loss due to menopause may increase risk.
  • Anorexia
  • Diet low in calcium and vitamin D
  • Medication use, particularly glucocorticoids or some anticonvulsants
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol

Talk to your doctor about your possible risk of osteoporosis, and what you can do to prevent problems.

Today on WebMD

woman looking in mirror
Article
Woman resting on fitness ball
Evaluator
 
woman collapsed over laundry
Quiz
Public restroom door sign
Slideshow
 
Couple with troubles
Article
Bone density illustration
VIDEO
 
Young woman being vaccinated
Slideshow
woman holding hand to ear
Slideshow
 
Blood pressure check
Slideshow
mother and daughter talking
Evaluator
 
intimate couple
Article
puppy eating
Slideshow