A woman working out pushing a tire

Women’s Health Toolkit

Women’s Health Awareness Month is extremely important to the Air Force and our many female beneficiaries. The goal is to empower women, encouraging them to make their health a priority.

This month also serves as a time to help women understand what steps they can take to improve their health. The information and resource links below will help create awareness about the importance of women’s health.

The Air Force Medical Service is dedicated to the health and wellness of our many servicewomen and their families. Every year, one out of four women report that they have not visited a doctor due to cost. Fortunately, TRICARE covers an annual comprehensive clinical preventive examination for all women. Well-woman check-ups are vital, not only for maintaining physical health but also mental health. Each year, one in five women go untreated for serious mental health conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or an eating disorder. Getting a yearly well-woman check-up, eating healthy foods, and getting enough exercise are steps that women can take today to ensure their health for tomorrow.

Breast Cancer

An illustration of breast cancer.

Malignant breast disease, or breast cancer, forms in the breast tissue — most often in the structures called the ducts and lobules. Every three minutes a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer, while one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime. Fortunately, huge strides have been made in recent years relating to the early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.

One of the earliest stages of breast cancer is known as ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS. This is a form of breast cancer in which abnormal cells, called carcinomas, are found in the lining of a breast duct. “In situ” means that the abnormal cells have not spread or invaded other breast tissues outside of the duct. In other words, DCIS is considered noninvasive. However, in some cases, DCIS can become a more aggressive form of cancer called invasive ductal carcinoma, or IDC.

Although DCIS is not usually detected during a breast physical exam, the frequency of the diagnosis of DCIS has increased dramatically in recent years as the use of screening mammography has become more common. There is an extremely high cure rate when DCIS is detected early. In fact, deaths from DCIS as well as other types of breast cancer have been declining in recent years due to earlier detection and treatment.

  • 230,815 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013
    • During the same year, 40,860 women died from breast cancer
    • Since 2003, the mortality rate of women with breast cancer has dropped approximately two percent

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is usually a slow-growing malignancy that begins in the lining of the cervix. Normal cervical cells can gradually develop precancerous changes that turn into cancer. There are two main types of cervical cancers: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Cervical cancers and cervical precancers are classified by how they look under a microscope. Eighty to 90 percent of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which most often begin where the ectocervix joins the endocervix.

The remaining 10 to 20 percent of cervical cancers are classified as adenocarcinomas. Unfortunately, adenocarcinomas are becoming more common. This type of cervical cancer develops from the mucus-producing gland cells of the endocervix. In some uncommon cases, cervical cancer can have characteristics of both squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas. These conditions are called adenosquamous carcinomas or mixed carcinomas.

It’s important to keep in mind that not all women with precancerous changes of the cervix will develop cancer. For most women, precancerous cells will remain unchanged and go away without any treatment. It’s hopeful to note that if these precancers are treated, then most cases of cervical cancer can be prevented.

  • Each year, 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the U.S.
  • The main cause of cervical cancer is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
    • The HPV vaccine protects against types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer


Stroke is the third leading cause of death for women (compared to being the fifth leading cause of death for men). Each year, 55,000 more women have a stroke than men. Women typically live longer than men, which means that suffering a stroke will have a more negative impact on their lives.

A stroke occurs when blood flow to a portion of the brain is blocked. Without oxygen, brain cells start to die after a few minutes. If brain cells die or are damaged because of a stroke, symptoms occur in the parts of the body that these brain cells control. Examples of these symptoms include sudden weakness; paralysis or numbness of the face, arms, or legs (paralysis is an inability to move); trouble speaking or understanding speech; and trouble seeing.

  • Stroke can happen to anyone at any time.
  • At any sign of stroke call 9-1-1 immediately.
  • Stroke recovery is a lifelong process.
  • There are nearly seven million stroke survivors in the U.S.
  • Stroke is the third leading cause of death for women in the U.S.
  • Family history of stroke increases the risk for stroke.
  • Warning signs for stroke include:
    • Sudden weakness
    • Paralysis or numbness of the face, arms, or legs
    • Trouble speaking or understanding speech
    • Vision problems


Diabetes is a disease that results from having high blood glucose, or high blood sugar, for too long. The body uses a hormone called insulin to absorb glucose from the bloodstream into other cells. A person with diabetes either doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use insulin effectively. More than 13 million women have diabetes, or about one in 10 women ages 20 and older. Diabetes can be especially hard on women. The burden of diabetes on women is unique because the disease can affect both mothers and their unborn children.

  • Compared with men with diabetes, women with diabetes have:
    • A higher risk for heart disease. Heart disease is the most common complication of diabetes.
    • Lower survival rates and a poorer quality of life after heart attack
    • A higher risk for blindness
    • A higher risk for depression. Depression, which affects twice as many women as men, also raises the risk for diabetes in women.

Chronic Respiratory Diseases

A woman getting her blood pressure checked.

Asthma is a chronic (ongoing) disease of the airways in the lungs called bronchial tubes. Bronchial tubes carry air into and out of the lungs. In people with asthma, the walls of these airways become inflamed and oversensitive. The airways overreact to things like smoke, air pollution, mold, and many chemical sprays.

They also can be irritated by allergens (like pollen and dust mites) and by respiratory infections (like a cold). When the airways overreact, they get narrower. This limits the flow of air into and out of the lungs and causes trouble breathing. Asthma symptoms include wheezing, coughing, and tightness in the chest.

Women are more likely than men to have asthma and are more likely to die from it. The percentage of women, especially young women, with asthma is rising in the United States. Researchers are not sure why. Many experts think that air pollution and allergens play a role in this increase. Breathing tobacco smoke also is linked to an increased risk of asthma.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
COPD refers to chronic obstructive bronchitis and emphysema. These conditions often occur together. Both diseases limit airflow into and out of the lungs and make breathing difficult. COPD usually gets worse with time.

A person with COPD has ongoing inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which carry air into and out of the lungs. This irritation causes the growth of cells that make mucus. The extra mucus leads to a lot of coughing. Over time, the irritation causes the walls of the airways to thicken and develop scars. The airways may become thickened enough to limit airflow to and from the lungs. If that happens, the condition is called chronic obstructive bronchitis.

In emphysema, the lung tissue gets weak, and the walls of the air sacs (alveoli) break down. Normally, oxygen from the air goes into the blood through these air sac walls. In a person with emphysema, the ruined air sac walls means less oxygen can pass into the blood. This causes shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing.

More than twice as many women as men are now diagnosed with chronic bronchitis. The rate of emphysema among women has increased by five percent in recent years but has decreased among men. And more women have died from COPD than men every year since 2000. Researchers are trying to understand why. Cigarette smoking, a main cause of COPD, has increased among women. One theory is that cigarette smoke is more damaging to women than to men.

Lung cancer
Lung cancer is a disease in which abnormal (malignant) lung cells multiply and grow without control. These cancerous cells can invade nearby tissues, spread to other parts of the body, or both. The two major kinds of lung cancer are named for the way the cells look under a microscope. They are:

  • Small cell lung cancer. This kind of lung cancer tends to spread quickly.
  • Non-small cell lung cancer. This is a term for several types of lung cancers that act in a similar way. Most lung cancers are non-small cell. This kind of lung cancer tends to spread more slowly than small cell lung cancer.

In the United States, more women now die from lung cancer than from any other type of cancer. Tobacco use is the major cause of lung cancer.


Obesity can be simply defined as having too much body fat. Over a period of time, if someone eats more calories than they use, they run the risk of becoming obese. Though the optimal balance between calories in and calories out differs for each person, the factors that contribute to weight gain are often the same, including diet, activity level, genetics, lifestyle, and others.

The consequences of obesity go beyond excess body fat because it can lead to other complications as well. In fact, obesity has been linked to consequences such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, kidney disease, and certain cancers. There are emotional and psychological consequences of obesity as well, especially for women living in a culture that often judges them based on their physical appearance.

  • Over 60 percent of adult women in the U.S. are overweight

Heart Disease

In the United States, one in four women die from heart disease, making it the number one cause of death. There are three common types of heart disease that women should be aware of. The first is Coronary Artery Disease This is the most common type of heart disease and it occurs when arteries that carry oxygen to the heart and other organs become hard and narrow. Blood flow can become blocked or slowed which can lead to angina — pain or discomfort in the chest — or heart attack. It’s important to note that heart attacks are more fatal in women than in men. Heart failure is the second type of heart disease and occurs when the heart is not strong enough to pump enough blood through the body. Although it is a popular belief, the heart stopping does not define heart failure. Some signs of heart failure are shortness of breath, swelling in the feet, ankles, or legs, or even extreme tiredness. The last form of heart disease that women should be aware of is called heart arrhythmias, or changes in heartbeat pattern. Most people experience some heart flutters or an increase in heartbeat speed from time to time, but if these symptoms are accompanied by dizziness or shortness of breath, a healthcare provider should be contacted immediately.

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 289,758 women in 2013 — that’s about one in every four female deaths.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for African American and white women in the United States. Among Hispanic women, heart disease and cancer cause roughly the same number of deaths each year. For American Indian or Alaska Native and Asian or Pacific Islander women, heart disease is second only to cancer.
  • About 5.8 percent of all white women, 7.6 percent of black women, and 5.6 percent of Mexican American women have coronary heart disease.
  • About two-thirds (64 percent) of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. Even if there are no visible symptoms, there may still be risk for heart disease.

Promotional Materials


News Comments Updated
Col. Theresa Medina, 319th Medical Group commander, poses for a photo at her desk Oct. 30, 2017, at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. Medina was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer a few years ago and overcame the illness with the help of Tricare and the support of family and friends. (U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Cierra Presentado) Med group commander battles breast cancer with the help of TRICARE
“I knew my life was going to change, I knew I was not in control, and that’s what scared me the most.” These are the thoughts that ran through Col. Theresa Medina’s mind as she was notified that she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
0 11/01
Continuing an Air Force career - hope after a breast cancer diagnosis Continuing an Air Force career - hope after a breast cancer diagnosis
The pink ribbon that symbolizes National Breast Cancer Awareness might be seen as a somber image, but it also represents hope and the many survivors. As awareness, support, and research funding have increased, more and more women are surviving breast cancer and returning to their careers.
0 10/27
88th Medical Group gastroenterology clinic NCOIC, Staff Sgt Gregory Chaffin, points out the digestive system as he explains the broad range of diseases the gastroenterology clinic treats and provides screenings for. The clinic also diagnoses and treats patients with acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology clinic helps prevent colon cancer with early detection screenings
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – The 88th Medical Group gastroenterology clinic treats and
0 8/28
Facebook Timeline Breast Cancer Awareness Oct 2016 (AF Graphic) A healthy lifestyle lowers your risk of getting breast cancer
Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women behind skin cancer, according to
0 10/27
(Courtesy photo) An Airman's breast cancer fight and recovery
Do you have a family history of cancer? Have you ever considered the possibility of getting cancer?
0 10/20
Default Air Force Logo Breast cancer: It’s not just a girl thing
About one in eight women and one in 1,000 men will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the U.S. breast cancer statistics at www.breastcancer.org.
0 10/18
Womens Health Oct 2016 (AF Graphic) Women can prolong their lives by taking these steps
Everyone - children and adults and men and women - should take charge of their own health to ensure
0 9/28
Preventing illness or injury is the goal of the Air Force’s Preventive Medicine program, a topic that is highlighted in August during Preventive Health Month.  (AF Graphic) Preventive measures lead to a healthier Air Force
Preventing illness or injury is the goal of the Air Force’s Preventive Medicine program, a topic
0 7/27
The Behavioral Health Optimization Program, or BHOP, integrates behavioral health personnel into primary care clinics, to provide “the right care, at the right time, in the right place.” Beneficiaries with behavioral health concerns can seek care directly through their primary care manager. Air Force increases access to behavioral health care
Nearly half of people with a treatable behavioral health disorder do not seek help from behavioral
0 6/06