October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so what better time to find out everything possible about this disease? Here's a rundown of what it is, how it can be treated and we bust a few breast cancer myths too.
WHAT IS BREAST CANCER?
Cancer, in general, is the situation in which abnormal cells grow and invade healthy cells in your body. This is how cancer spreads – or metastasises – to other parts of your body. Breast cancer starts in the ducts (which carry milk to the nipple) or lobules (which produce breast milk) of the breast. In some instances, the cancer cells stay in the ducts or lobules and this is known as having non-invasive breast cancer. If these cancer cells spread into the surrounding tissue, this is what is referred to as invasive breast cancer.
More than 25% of all cancers diagnosed in women in Singapore are breast cancers. Between 2010 and 2014, about 1,856 women each year were diagnosed with breast cancer in Singapore. The most reliable way to screen for breast cancer is by going for a mammogram, as it can detect cancerous lumps even before they can be felt by hand.
For more information about breast cancer screening and mammograms, go to www.bcf.org.sg/mammography-screening
WHO IS AT RISK?
While most women diagnosed with breast cancer are aged over 40, this doesn't mean that younger women can't get it. In Singapore, women as young as in their early 20s have been diagnosed with the disease.
What kind of treatment you're offered if you're diagnosed with breast cancer depends on the stage and type of breast cancer. Options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormonal therapies.
For more information about treatment, you can get additional information from SingHealth
FACT VS FICTION
Myth #1: If you have a lump in your breast, you have breast cancer.
Nine out of 10 women who have breast lumps don't end up having cancer. Instead, they are diagnosed as merely benign lumps. It is, however, important to see a doctor if you notice a lump in your breast so that she can examine it properly.
Myth #2: If someone in your family has breast cancer, you are likely to get it too.
The truth is that, most women who get breast cancer have no family history. Statistics show that only between five to 10% of all breast cancers are associated with genetic factors. But women with a family history are in a higher risk group. If you have a mother or sister who developed breast cancer below the age of 50, you should start going for regular diagnostic breast imaging starting 10 years before the age of her diagnosis. If you have a grandmother or aunt who had the disease, you have a slightly higher risk than women with no family history but not as much as someone with a first-degree (mother or sister) relative.
Myth #3: The bigger your breasts, the higher your risk of breast cancer.
The size of your breasts has nothing to do with whether or not you will get breast cancer. This is because breast cancer develops in the cells that line the ducts or lobules, and all women have the same number of these, regardless of breast size.
Myth #4: Your chance of breast cancer increases if you wear a bra.
There is no scientific evidence to support this so wear your bra as often as you want.
Myth #5: A lump is the only symptom of breast cancer.
About 10% of women diagnosed with breast cancer don't have any lumps or pain of any sort. Even if you don't have any lumps, look out for the following symptoms too:
- breast pain or nipple tenderness
- nipple discharge
- a change in the way your breast or nipple feels or looks
- a change in the size or shape of your breast
- scaly, red or swollen skin – even with pitting that resembles an orange peel – on your breast, nipple or areola (the darker skin around the nipple)
If you’re concerned about breast cancer, you can contact the Singapore Breast Cancer Foundation or read additional information from SingHealth. If you want to support breast cancer survivors, check out the Pink Ribbon campaign in Singapore.
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