What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women worldwide and the most common female cancer in Singapore, accounting for 25% of cancers diagnosed in women. It starts with a malignant (cancerous) tumour that forms when breast cells start growing abnormally. This abnormal cell growth is caused by cells dividing rapidly, which leads to excessive growth and forms a lump.
Breast cells can become abnormal before any symptoms of breast cancer appear. Moreover, without treatment, these malignant cells will metastasise (spread) from the breast to other parts of the body such as the lymph nodes, liver, lungs and more.
This highlights the importance of raising awareness for breast cancer screening and early detection. One of the initiatives for promoting awareness is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an international health campaign that takes place in Singapore as well.
Early Detection of breast cancer is paramount because the survival rate declines as breast cancer progresses to the later stages. Symptoms of breast cancer in women may not always appear right away. Early detection of the disease results in early treatment, which improves outcome and increases survival rate. Therefore, this reinforces the importance of regular breast cancer screenings such as mammograms and clinical breast exams.
- Mammogram – An imaging test that utilises low dose x-rays to detect breast cancer, even before lumps are felt.
- Clinical Breast Examination – A physical examination conducted by a healthcare professional involving an examination of both breasts, the underarms and collarbone area to detect any signs of breast cancer.
Signs & Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Recognising the signs and symptoms of breast cancer through self-examination at home is a way to detect breast cancer early as well. Symptoms do not always manifest in the form of a lump and the signs of breast cancer may differ from woman to woman. Knowing how your breasts normally look and feel will help you determine if there is anything out of the ordinary. Some common signs and symptoms of breast cancer to look out for are:
- Indrawn or bleeding nipple
- Swelling of the breast
- Discharge from the nipple
- Lymph node changes
- Enlarged lymph glands in the armpit
- Skin dimpling
What Are the Risk Factors of Breast Cancer?
Like most diseases, the risk of breast cancer increases with age. However, there are certain risk factors that cause an individual to be more predisposed to breast cancer compared to others. For example, risk factors such as genetics cannot be changed, but lifestyle factors like alcohol consumption are within your control.
Risk Factors You Cannot Control
- Genetic Mutation – The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer.
- Reproductive History – The longer the length of a woman’s fertile period (start of menstrual periods to menopause), the higher the risk of developing breast cancer.
- Family History of Breast Cancer – The chances of breast cancer are increased for women with family members who have had breast cancer.
Risk Factors You Can Control
- Low Physical Activity – Women who are not physically active have a greater chance of developing breast cancer.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy – Using hormone therapy with estrogen and progesterone after menopause increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Alcohol Consumption – Breast cancer risk also rises with increased alcohol intake.
If you have any of these risk factors, go for regular checkups and screening, as early detection increases the chance of curing breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month
October is recognised as Breast Cancer Awareness Month across the globe, including Singapore. Breast Cancer Awareness Month helps raise breast cancer awareness, promotes early detection, and supports those affected by it. In addition, companies and organisations raise funds for the cause into its research, prevention, and cure.
The pink ribbon is known as the international symbol of Breast Cancer Awareness and is often used as a show of support for women affected by breast cancer. Generally, the colour pink is associated with the breast cancer movement, serving as a way to promote and raise awareness for breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a chance to educate the public about breast cancer. Through education and early detection, the likelihood of surviving breast cancer is increased. Consult The Cancer Centre Clinic oncologists if you have concerns regarding breast cancer.