Things That Make Women More Prone to Cancer

Things That Make Women More Prone to Cancer

Things that make women more prone to breast cancer | Sunrise Oncology Centre | Mumbai & Goa

While studies suggest that globally, more men are prone to cancer [1], women can be better equipped to beat the disease and come out winning. The key – knowing your risk factors, early detection and getting adequate treatment.

The good news, says Dr. Ashay Karpe, Medical Oncologist and Haematologist, Sunrise Oncology Centre, almost 50 per cent of the types of cancers found in India are a result of unhealthy or incorrect lifestyle choices and therefore, can be prevented.  

Here are some of the common reasons that can make women prone to cancer, and what you can do to reduce your risk.


One side effect of obesity is that it can lead to chronic low-level inflammation over a period of time. This can eventually damage the DNA, and increase the risk for cancer. Obesity or excess weight gain can cause issues such as gallstones (which can increase the risk of gallbladder cancer), chronic hepatitis (that could eventually lead to liver cancer), gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD that could lead to cancer of the oesophagus and more. 

Dr. Ashay Karpe also stresses on how excess weight gain or obesity can increase the risk in women of various types of cancers, such as breast cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer and so on.

Keeping your weight in check and preventing a spike on the weighing scale may help bring down the risk of cancer related to excessive weight gain or obesity. [2]

Read more about Obesity and Breast Cancer


While you cannot control certain natural changes that happen in your body as a result of advancing age, you can definitely control or prevent some of the factors that may lead towards a higher risk of cancer. Ageing brings along some damage to the cells in your body. However, with certain lifestyle changes and a conscious effort to lead a more balanced and healthier lifestyle, you can reduce your risk of age-related cancer.

For instance, regular smoking, long-term exposure to UV rays and similar lifestyle habits can accelerate the process of ageing and pose a higher risk of related cancers. Adopting a healthier lifestyle such as reducing smoking/alcohol consumption, staying safely outdoors in the sun and so on may reduce the risk of cancer. [3]  

Family history

Your family’s medical history can also have a bearing on how prone you may be to cancer. Certain types of cancers, such as breast cancer, have been linked with a history of breast cancer in the family. Studies suggest that women who have a history of breast cancer cases on the maternal side, especially in first-degree relatives, may be more prone to a risk of the same. [4]

One of the keys to reducing your risk and enabling early detection is to speak to your family members and know about any such health issues in the past.

Genes BRACA 1, BRACA 2 gene mutation

Certain types of gene mutations can cause an abnormal growth in cells, which may lead to a risk of cancer. Women who may have inherited a mutated gene from a parent are at a higher risk of breast cancer. Research suggests that compared to women who don’t have these gene mutations, women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations will have about a 45 percent (up to a 7 in 10 cases) chance of cancer. [5] 

Estimates also suggest that up to 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer in women can be related to hereditary gene mutations [6]. Gene mutations are also a factor in increased risk of epithelial ovarian cancer in women [7]. 

Check for signs and symptoms of breast cancer and speak to your doctor about chances of a higher risk to help detect cases at the earliest.     

Menopausal status

Menopause may increase the risk of certain types of cancer, such as ovarian cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer and others, in women who have reached menopause. Reaching menopause late in life, or being on hormonal therapy treatment (HRT) can also especially increase the risk. Studies suggest that this risk can increase by up to 2.3 percent each year over a longer period of time, in women who continue to take hormonal replacement therapy [8].

Regular exercising, avoiding triggers that cause hot flashes, reducing or quitting smoking and alcohol consumption are some of the ways to reduce your risk. In addition, make sure to speak to your doctor about your risk of the same.

Late pregnancy

Various studies suggest that, women who are pregnant later in life, especially after the age of 35, are at a higher risk of breast cancer, as compared to those who are pregnant at a younger age. It is not clear what exactly increases this risk. [9]

If you are in your 30s and planning to conceive, speak to your doctor about any health concerns you need to be careful about, and how to reduce your risk. 

A greater than average number of menstrual periods

Research suggests that various factors related to the menstrual periods, such as irregularity in your periods, the overall length of the cycle, the length of the cycle, how many menstrual cycles you have passed before your first full term pregnancy and so on can have a direct impact on your risk of breast cancer. Also, women with a greater than average number of menstrual periods may experience changes in the levels of oestrogen in the body, which can lead to a higher risk of endometrial or uterine cancer [10].

Inform your doctor about any irregularities or discomfort related to your menstrual cycle.

Post-menopausal hormone therapy

Studies suggest a strong link between hormone replacement therapy in women post menopause and cancer of the female reproductive organs, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer and uterine cancer. Long-term use of hormone therapy is especially linked to a higher risk of these cancers [11].

Speak to your doctor to find out if you can reduce your HRT cycles and how to reduce your cancer risks. 

Not breastfeeding

As per studies, women who do not breastfeed are at a higher risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer as well as ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding can help to suppress ovulation, which can have a positive effect on malignant transformation [12]. 

It is recommended that new mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months, to reduce their risk of breast cancer as well as to reduce any related health issues in the infant. 

Drinking and smoking

Studies and research suggest a significant increase in the risk of breast cancer in women who smoke or consume alcohol, as compared to women who never smoke or consume alcohol, or do it sparsely. It was also noted that smoking or consuming alcohol can increase the risk of certain types of cancer in women who are already more susceptible to cancer [13, 14]. 

According to Dr. Ashay Karpe, incorporating simple and healthy practices in your daily lifestyle, such as having fresh fruits or vegetables, can vastly aid in preventing certain types of cancers. 


Having Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) or Polycystic Ovary Disease (PCOD) can increase the risk of some types of cancers in women. Women who are suffering from PCOS are at a higher risk of endometrial cancer, endocrine gland cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer and cancer of the uterus [15]. 

If you experience any irregularities or discomfort related to your menstrual cycle, make sure to flag it to your doctor.

Physical inactivity

Studies emphasize on the importance of physical activity as a way to reduce your risk of certain types of cancers. For instance, regular physical activity can definitely reduce your risk of breast cancer, endometrial cancer, colon cancer, cancer of the bladder, cancer of the oesophagus, cancer of the kidney, stomach or gastric cancer and more [16]. 

Dr. Ashay Karpe, says that not exercising regularly, or leading a sedentary lifestyle, can also increase your chances of being exposed to the risk of cancer. Take out at least half an hour to an hour each day for a physical activity of your choice. 

Unsafe sex/not getting vaccinated for cervical cancer

Having unsafe sex or having sex with multiple partners can also increase the risk of various types of cancer, especially cervical cancer, in women [17]. Cervical cancer can be prevented to a large extent with timely screening and getting the recommended shots of cervical cancer vaccine as suggested by your doctor [18]. 

Following safe sex practices and ensuring you complete your cervical cancer vaccine schedule can help reduce the risk. 

While there are many factors that can increase a woman’s risk for various types of cancer, timely detection and following the right treatment plan as suggested by your doctor can help reduce the risk. 

In addition, you can incorporate a healthier lifestyle as early as now, to not just reduce your risk of certain types of cancer, but also improve your overall quality of life. Take care and get moving! 

Read more about Cervical Cancer


[1] Dorak, M Tevfik, and Ebru Karpuzoglu. “Gender differences in cancer susceptibility: an inadequately addressed issue.” Frontiers in genetics vol. 3 268. 28 Nov. 2012, doi:10.3389/fgene.2012.00268 

[2] Reviewed: January 17, 2017 De Pergola G, Silvestris F. Obesity as a major risk factor for cancer. J Obes. 2013;2013:291546. doi: 10.1155/2013/291546. Epub 2013 Aug 29. PMID: 24073332; PMCID: PMC3773450. 

[3] White MC, Holman DM, Boehm JE, Peipins LA, Grossman M, Henley SJ. Age and cancer risk: a potentially modifiable relationship. Am J Prev Med. 2014 Mar;46(3 Suppl 1):S7-15. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.10.029. PMID: 24512933; PMCID: PMC4544764. 

[4] Haber G, Ahmed NU, Pekovic V. Family history of cancer and its association with breast cancer risk perception and repeat mammography. Am J Public Health. 2012 Dec;102(12):2322-9. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2012.300786. Epub 2012 Oct 18. PMID: 23078489; PMCID: PMC3519312. 

[5] Kell MR, Burke JP. Management of breast cancer in women with BRCA gene mutation. BMJ. 2007 Mar 3;334(7591):437-8. doi: 10.1136/bmj.39114.354248.80. PMID: 17332541; PMCID: PMC1808129.


[7] Shulman LP, Dungan JS. Cancer genetics: risks and mechanisms of cancer in women with inherited susceptibility to epithelial ovarian cancer. Cancer Treat Res. 2010;156:69-85. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4419-6518-9_6. PMID: 20811826; PMCID: PMC3086477. 


[9] Chakravarthi BV, Varambally S. Targeting the link between late pregnancy and breast cancer. Elife. 2013 Dec 31;2:e01926. doi: 10.7554/eLife.01926. PMID: 24381250; PMCID: PMC3874101.

[10] Olsson HL, Olsson ML. The Menstrual Cycle and Risk of Breast Cancer: A Review. Front Oncol. 2020 Jan 24;10:21. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2020.00021. PMID: 32038990; PMCID: PMC6993118.  

[11] Beral V, Banks E, Reeves G, Appleby P. Use of HRT and the subsequent risk of cancer. J Epidemiol Biostat. 1999;4(3):191-210; discussion 210-5. PMID: 10695959. 

[12] Stuebe A. The risks of not breastfeeding for mothers and infants. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Fall;2(4):222-31. PMID: 20111658; PMCID: PMC2812877. 



[15] Daniilidis A, Dinas K. Long term health consequences of polycystic ovarian syndrome: a review analysis. Hippokratia. 2009 Apr;13(2):90-2. PMID: 19561777; PMCID: PMC2683463. 


[17] Cooper D, Hoffman M, Carrara H, Rosenberg L, Kelly J, Stander I, Denny L, Williamson AL, Shapiro S. Determinants of sexual activity and its relation to cervical cancer risk among South African women. BMC Public Health. 2007 Nov 27;7:341. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-7-341. PMID: 18042284; PMCID: PMC2228293.  [18] Mishra GA, Pimple SA, Shastri SS. HPV vaccine: One, two, or three doses for cervical cancer prevention? Indian J Med Paediatr Oncol. 2015 Oct-Dec;36(4):201-6. doi: 10.4103/0971-5851.171534. PMID: 26811587; PMCID: PMC4711216.

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