Women's Health Q&A

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Women's Health Q&A

I received an e-mail that using antiperspirants is a leading cause of breast cancer. Is this true?

This e-mail, which has been circulating for a few months, is based upon personal opinion and not scientific fact. There is no proof that antiperspirants are linked to breast cancer in women. The e-mail claims that using an antiperspirant inhibits sweating, preventing the body from eliminating toxins that build up in the lymph nodes in the armpits to the point that cell mutations occur.

In actual fact, perspiration is primarily a cooling mechanism and toxins are eliminated from the body mainly by the liver and kidneys. In addition, the e-mail states that most cancerous tumours are found in the upper-outer quadrant of the breast, which is where the lymph notes are located. Only 50% of cancerous tumours are found in this area, yet this area contains the most breast tissue.

Although the causes of breast cancer are still not known, some of the risk factors include being female, getting older, beginning menstruation at an early age and having a family history of breast cancer. To maintain breast health, the best approach is early detection through regular examinations: monthly breast self-examinations, a clinical breast examination done by a health professional and annual mammograms after the age of 50.

Sources: Hope Breast Cancer Information Resource Centre, Manitoba and Quebec Breast Cancer Information Exchange Network

My doctor just told me that my last Pap smear was abnormal. What does this mean?

Pap smears (also called Pap tests or vaginal cytology) allow the early detection of abnormalities in the cervix, including precancerous and cancerous cells. Although abnormal results may be worrisome, they rarely indicate that you have cancer. Should the abnormal results be due to an irritation of the cervix, usually caused by a vaginal infection, the doctor will repeat the Pap test until the results are normal. If cell abnormalities (cervical dysplasia) are found, your doctor will have additional tests done. Commonly, your doctor will perform a colposcopy, using a large magnifying lens to view the cervix and any abnormalities directly, followed by a biopsy, in which a small fragment of tissue is removed and examined under the microscope. This is a simple procedure in which an instrument resembling a long pair of forceps is used to remove the abnormal cells.

Confirmed cervical dysplasia must be treated with cryotherapy, laser surgery or conization. Cryotherapy and laser surgery are reserved for less serious abnormalities located on the external portion of the cervix. Cryotherapy destroys abnormal cells by exposing them to liquid nitrogen, while laser treatments vaporize cells with a precisely targeted beam of light. For more advanced cases, which involve cancerous cells or where the cervical canal is affected, conization (cone biopsy) is used.

This is a minor surgical procedure that entails removing part of the cervix under local anaesthesia, done on an outpatient basis. A follow-up colposcopy will be done every four to six months after treatment until the cervix is completely normal.

Please remember that precancerous conditions and early-stage cervical cancer are highly treatable: 90% of cases require only a single treatment and 99% require only two treatments.

Source: Womanly Times

Disclaimer: The Canadian Women's Health Network and Network magazine provide general information not intended as a substitute for professional advice. If you feel you need medical advice, please see your health professional. The CWHN makes every effort to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information that appears on this web site.