By Dr See Hui Ti for Breast Cancer Foundation
Breast cancer is the most common form of disease among women. In Singapore, one in 11 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. However, while the phrase ‘breast cancer’ is one that women are familiar with, there are few of us who know enough about the disease. As we kick-start Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, here are five things mums should know about breast cancer.
1. Four in five women diagnosed with breast cancer have no known risk factors.
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The genetic mutation that predisposes one to breast cancer occurs in less than 5% of all breast cancers. This means that breast cancer is nobody’s fault and there isn’t something ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ that you have done that will affect the diagnosis.
2. Breast cancer is highly curable when detected early.
Breast Self-Examination (BSE) is one of the most effective screening methods for breast cancer because it requires no professional training or equipment. This can be done by women of all ages, while other methods like mammograms and ultrasound screenings are usually recommended for women above 40, unless otherwise advised by their doctor. At an early stage, breast cancer is more treatable, and this leads to not only a higher chance of survival but also a shorter recovery period. This is why early detection is key, and why foundations like Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF) are strong advocates for the early detection of breast cancer.
3. Hormonal changes can cause cyclical breast changes, including lumps.
It is not uncommon for menstruating women to get cyclical breast lumps. Breast lumps are also common in lactating breasts. However, this means that older post-menopausal women should not get cyclical breast lumps. As a general rule of thumb, any persistent lumps that do not seem cyclical should receive medical attention.
4. A healthy active lifestyle helps prevent breast cancer.
As with all diseases, one way to prevent breast cancer is through good diet and exercise. Several studies have suggested that eating a diet high in fat and or high alcohol intake may increase the risk of breast cancer; while moderate to extreme physical activities can reduce a woman’s lifetime risk.
A good diet, well balanced with fruits, vegetables and whole grains, is one that allows a woman to keep an ideal weight. Being physically active and exercising three to five times a week for at least 30 minutes each time is also key to good health. Many young mothers are often too busy to think about their health, but it is as crucial to take care of yourself as it is for your children. Research has also shown that breast feeding may reduce a mother’s risk against breast cancer.
5. You are not alone.
Mothers are amazing strong women. However, besides medical treatment, emotional support and practical help are crucial for all women diagnosed with breast cancer. Foundations like BCF offer a range of counselling, education, empowerment and ‘Healing Through The Arts’ activities to those diagnosed with, and survivors of breast cancer, their caregivers and family members. Engaging with a community creates a network through which one can receive much-needed reassurance and comfort throughout the journey.
More importantly, do not be afraid to start a conversation about breast cancer. This year, BCF has launched the Say #Breast. Save Lives campaign as a first step towards encouraging Singaporeans to open up to the topic of breast cancer by first saying the word “breast”. The digital campaign aims to raise breast cancer awareness by redefining how the word is used in social media. Do your part by starting a conversation today.
Dr See Hui Ti is a Medical Oncologist at Parkway Cancer Centre, Mount Elizabeth Hospital. She was previously a Consultant in Medical Oncology at the National Cancer Centre as well as a Visiting Consultant at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital specialising in adult breast and gynecologic cancers.