> Keeping Abreast with Breast Cancer
According to the National Registry of Diseases Office (source), breast cancer is the top cause of cancer deaths among women in Singapore and the rate of incidence is still on the rise.
Early detection is crucial to a successful treatment outcome. However, many women often delay or avoid going for screening and check-ups due to misconceptions and fears about mammograms and breast cancer (source). This is a cause for concern and can be resolved by doing self-checks at home and going for screenings early.
What is Breast Cancer?
There is usually no pain or symptoms in the early stages of breast cancer.
Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast grow out of control. These cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells and continue to accumulate, forming a lump or mass (source). Breast cancer begins in the ducts or lobules and can spread out of the breast through lymph nodes in the armpit and to the rest of the body.
A breast is made up of three main parts (source):
- Lobules – Glands that produce milk
- Ducts – Tubes that carry milk to the nipple
- Connective tissue – Consisting of fibroids and fatty tissue that surrounds and holds the breast together
Breast cancer is diagnosed according to the different stages; the higher the number, the more advanced the cancer (source)
- Stage 0 – Cancer has been diagnosed early and breast mass is non-invasive. There is no indication of tumour cells spreading to other parts of the breast or other parts of the body. This stage is also referred to as ‘carcinoma in situ’.
- Stage 1 – Cancer is at its earliest stage of being invasive. Tumour measures up to 2 cm and no lymph nodes are involved.
- Stage 2 – Invasive breast cancer. Tumour measures between 2 cm to 5 cm or cancer has spread to lymph nodes under the arm on the same side as the breast cancer.
- Stage 3 – Locally advanced breast cancer. Tumour is more than 2 inches in diameter and cancer is extensive in the underarm lymph nodes or has spread to other tissues near the breast.
- Stage 4 – Metastatic breast cancer. Cancer has spread beyond the breast, underarm and mammary lymph nodes to other parts of the body. Affected areas may include bones, brain, lungs or liver.
Treatment options vary depending on the stage of breast cancer, the types of cancer cells and the age and general health of the individual. Early diagnosis allows for more effective treatment options such as breast cancer surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy (source).
Who Should Pay Attention?
Although the causes of breast cancers are not clear, there are a few risk factors to pay attention to when talking about breast cancer, they include (source):
- Being female – Women are more likely to develop breast cancer than men
- Family history of breast cancer – The risk of developing breast cancer is higher if you have one or multiple family members who have breast cancer
- Reproductive history – Women with early menstrual periods (before age 12) and later menopause (after age 55) are exposed to hormones longer and have a higher risk of developing breast cancer
- Genetic mutation – Women with inherited genetic mutations such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 are at a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer
- Dense breasts – Asian breasts are denser than that of Caucasians, dense breasts also have more connective tissue than fatty tissue which increases the difficulty in spotting tumours on a mammogram
- Obesity – Being obese increases the risk of breast cancer
How can you Reduce the Risk of Breast Cancer?
There are many factors beyond one’s control in developing breast cancer, but there are also changes we can make in our daily life to help reduce the risk of it. Some things you can consider include (source):
- Being familiar with your breast by doing self-exam at home
- Monitoring and maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly (always consult your doctor before starting something new and start slow)
- Choosing a healthy diet
- Limiting post-menopausal hormone therapy
When Should you Start Doing Self-examinations and going for Screenings?
Depending on your age group, there are different recommendations on how you can go about protecting yourself from breast cancer.
All women aged 30 and above should conduct breast self-examinations once a month after your period and watch out for changes.
Women aged between 40 and 49 are encouraged to go for mammograms once a year, please be advised to speak with your doctor about the benefits and limitations to make an informed decision. Women aged 50 and above are encouraged to go for screening once every two years.