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Published on February 02, 2018

What's Different for Women: Cancer, Depression and Heart Disease

Healthy WomenIn this series:

Cervical Cancer

The American Cancer Society estimates that 13,240 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2018. Fortunately, with the development and utilization of pap smears as an effective screening method for the disease, cervical cancer has become a highly preventable disease.

Almost all cervical cancer cases are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Therefore, another effective method of preventing the disease is to receive the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is most effective when given before an individual becomes sexually active. The optimal age for females and males to receive the HPV vaccine is between eleven to twelve years and is safe for individuals as young as nine.

The main symptom of cervical cancer is post-coital bleeding, with other, less common symptoms being abdominal pain or foul-smelling discharge—which usually only present in advanced stages of cancer. Cone Health Cancer Center understands the importance of screening to prevent and/or detect cervical cancer early. Therefore, the network regularly offers free cervical cancer screenings to individuals throughout the community who cannot afford to see their physician.

Dr. Emma Rossi is a gynecologic oncologist at Cone Health’s Cancer Center.


Depression is a common mood disorder, especially in women, and often has the power to skew an individual’s perspective on their life and surroundings. For women, feeling overwhelmed by stress from work and family responsibilities often causes them to be more vulnerable to the onset of depression. Recognizing the early signs of the disease and finding treatment as soon as possible is the best method to help prevent it from developing further. To help identify depression early, OB/GYNs and women’s health care professionals screen for symptoms during each visit and can point women to the resources they need.

It is important to become educated and to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression. Symptoms include:

  • Little interest or pleasure doing things
  • Feeling down, depressed or hopeless
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
  • Feeling tired or having little energy
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Feeling bad about yourself – or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down
  • Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television
  • Moving or speaking so slowly that other people notice, or being fidgety and restless
  • Thoughts that you would be better off dead or of hurting yourself in some way

Postpartum depression is actually very common, and symptoms can include: feeling overwhelmed taking care of the baby, difficulty bonding with the baby, or thoughts of harm coming to the baby. It is extremely important to seek the help and treatment of a mental health professional if experiencing these signs.

If you experience symptoms of depression for more than two weeks it is extremely important to seek the help of a mental health professional.

Jamie McMannes is an integrated behavioral health clinician at Cone Health’s Center for Women’s Healthcare at Women’s Hospital.

Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one killer of American women, killing one out of three women in the United States. Since 1984, women have surpassed men in cardiovascular disease-related mortality. Traditional risk factors - such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking and obesity - affect men and women, but other factors can play a larger role for women, such as:

  • pregnancy-related pre-eclampsia
  • eclampsia
  • gestational diabetes
  • stillbirth
  • miscarriages (especially multiple)
  • depression
  • stress
  • history of trauma or abuse

Peripartum cardiomyopathy is a rare form of heart disease that affects women who are pregnant or have recently given birth. It can be hard to detect, which is why it’s important for women to understand their family history and other risk factors and be open with their physician about any symptoms they may experience.

Women often present with heart disease symptoms later than men, and their symptoms are often different than what is commonly associated with heart disease or heart attack. Some women still experience the classic symptom of chest pain, but other symptoms that can be indicators of heart disease include:

  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • extreme sweats
  • shortness of breath
  • indigestion
  • neck, jaw and/or back pain.

Because women often present with heart disease symptoms later than men, they often seek treatment later than men. Therefore, it is important for individuals who are experiencing a sudden onset of symptoms they have never felt before, such as acid reflux or other feelings they can’t explain, to begin thinking about what could possibly be going on, and take action instead of waiting.

Dr. Katarina Nelson is a cardiologist with Cone Health Medical Group HeartCare.