Women and cancer

In 2019 in Australia, and estimated 66,632 women were diagnosed with cancer and 21,826 died from it. Women and men have a one in two chance of being diagnosed with cancer before the age of 85.

Generally, the chances of developing cancer (risk) increases with age for both men and women.

How women can reduce their risk of cancer | Cancers in Women


The four most common cancers that affect women

Breast cancer and gynaecological cancers (cancers affecting the female reproductive organs) are not the only types of cancers that affect women. After breast cancer, the most common types of cancers that affect women living in Western Australia (WA) are bowel cancer, melanoma, and lung cancer. To find out more about these cancers, select the links below:

Cancers that only affect women

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Breast cancer

Like most cancers, breast cancer is more easily and successfully treated if first detected in its early stages. Learning how your breasts change and feel at different times will help you understand what is normaly for you. Most breast changes are not due to cancer, but you should see your doctor immediately if you notice any of the following unusual changes:

  • A lump, lumpiness of thickening in the breast or armpit
  • Dimpling, puckering or redness of the skin
  • Changes to the nipple (eg inversion, new discharge or itchy, ulcerated skin)
  • New persistent pain

Women aged 50-74 should have a mammogram (breast x-ray) at BreastScreen WA every two years.

Cancer Council WA supports Cancer Australia's statement and BreastScreen Australia's statement on the use of thermography for breast cancer screening. As there is insufficient evidence to suggest that thermography is an effective means of detecting breast cancer early and reducing the number of deaths from breast cancer, it is not recommended that you use thermography to screen for breast cancer.

Find out more about breast cancer and being breast aware.

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Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable of all cancers. Even so, in 2017 in WA there were 88 new diagnoses of cervical cancer and 20 deaths recorded. Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by long-term infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV can cause cervical cell changes, producing the abnormal cells that may develop into cancer.

About 40 types of HPV are known as genital HPV as they affect the anal and genital area. Genital HPV is spread by intimate skin to skin contact during sexual activity, including sexual intercourse.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes most cases of cervical cancer, as well as some cancers of the anus, vagina, vulva, penis and head and neck. Being vaccinated against HPV can help to prevent cervical cancer, as well as other cancers caused by HPV.

Find out more about HPV and cervical cancer

Find out more about the HPV vaccine


 New Cervical Cancer Screening test 

The National Cervical Screening Program has changed. The Pap smear test was replaced on 1 December 2017 with a new Cervical Screening Test. All women aged 25-74 who have ever had sex should have a Cervical Screening Test every five years. The first Cervical Screening Test is due two years after a women's last Pap test. After that, women will only need to have the test every five years if the results are normal

Find out more about the National Cervical Screeening Program

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Other gynaecological cancers

There are currently no screening tests for ovarian, uterine, vaginal or vulval cancers. Your doctor may do a pelvic examination when you have a Pap smear. This involves looking at the vulva and vagina, and feeling the uterus and ovaries.

It is important to be aware of the following symptoms and talk to your doctor if you notice any abnormal changes that persist for more than 3-4 weeks. Do keep in mind that these symptoms are common to many conditions, and most women who experience them will not have cancer.

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding (eg bleeding after intercourse, persistent bleeding between periods or bleeding that occurs six months or more after menopause)
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Lower abdominal swelling and/or discomfort
  • Painful or difficult urination
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Changes in bowel or bladder function
  • Severe itchiness and/or changes to the vulva
Find out more about other gynaecological cancers

Find out more about ovarian cancer.

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How women can reduce their risk of cancer

There are a number of things you can do to help reduce your chances (risk) of developing cancer. These include:

Stop smoking
Be SunSmart
Avoid or limit alcohol
Move your body
Stay in shape
Eat for health
Participate in screening
Get vaccinated