Around the world, the number of people who have breast cancer are increasing steadily.
In fact, in Singapore, the rate of breast cancer has tripled since 40 years ago. Today, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Singapore. It is also the leading cause of cancer death in Singaporean women. One in 16 women in Singapore will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
Why do people get breast cancer?
Many people believe that wearing underwire bras or getting breast implants cause cancer, but that is entirely untrue! It is not clear what exactly causes breast cancer, but there are some factors that may increase our risk of developing it.
Our lifestyle is one factor. A perfect Friday evening plan might look something like this – inviting a group of friends or a loved one over to watch a movie and relax, accompanied by all-you-can-drink alcohol and delicious and decadent snacks. After all, Friday only comes round once a week. However, this spells bad news for us. Consuming a copious amount of alcohol makes us more susceptible to developing breast cancer. The sedentary lifestyle of a couch-potato and being obese are also factors that can increase our risk.
Here’s another plan – why not gather a group of friends to catch Pokemon on the go? Hopefully, all the walking will help you hit your weekly exercise quota and maintain a slender figure.
Other factors that increase our risk of developing breast cancer are beyond our control, unfortunately. This includes factors like age, family history, genetics, personal health history, the start of menstruation and menopause, and even ethnicity. Do you know that in Singapore, it has been found that Chinese women are at higher risk of developing breast cancer than Malay and Indian women?
What should I look out for?
Well, if majority of lumps in breasts are benign, then what should I look out for, to know if I have breast cancer? Breast cancer may manifest in the form of a lump, but sometimes it does not. Symptoms could take the form of some physical differences to the breast and nipple.
Take note of how they look. For example, is there itch and rash around the nipple? How about bleeding or unusual discharge from the nipple? If not, has the nipple shifted or retracted? How about the breast? Does it have swollen, thickened or dimpled skin over it? Are there any changes to its size and shape?
If you find any of these symptoms, make an appointment immediately with your doctor to get yourself screened. Also, just because the majority of lumps are not cancerous, it does not mean that you leave it alone when you discover a lump in your breast – get it checked out. Early detection and treatment is key to recovering from breast cancer, and knowledge of a lump being benign would be a load off your chest.
I’m in the clear! I don’t have any of these symptoms.
Not so fast. Even if you don’t have any of the above symptoms, it is still advisable to go for regular screenings as early-stage breast cancer does not exhibit any symptoms.
By going for screenings, you are conducting a routine check to make sure that your breast is free of disease. If the results are negative, great! But even if they detect cancer, it is much better to have it discovered at this stage than later, when symptoms start showing up.
Early detection of breast cancer means that your cancer is likely to be smaller and still confined in one spot. This makes it much easier to treat and manage the cancer. It possibly means a longer lifespan, less chances of the cancer recurring, and a higher chance of preserving the breast. On the other hand, if the disease is put off till later, the cancer would have spread to other parts of the body, making it difficult to treat and control. The 5 year survival rate also drops significantly for cancer detected at later stages. It suffices to say that most breast cancer deaths are a result of late detection, which is unfortunate, because it is preventable.
How else can I protect myself from breast cancer?
Apart from regular screenings at the hospital, there are also monthly breast self-examinations that you can do in the comfort of your own home. For those of you still having your period, it should be done on the same day each month, 3 to 5 days after the end of your period. As for the older ladies among us who have already undergone menopause, all you have to do is perform the test on the same day each month. If you observe any symptoms, try to get them checked out as soon as possible!
By going for regular screenings, breast cancer can be detected and treated earlier and much more effectively. Plus, the results are encouraging. If you have not gone for a scan before, why not make an appointment today? A scan today might just save you from far more serious conditions in the future.