1. Do not ignore certain changes in your breasts
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor to get them checked out immediately, says Dr See Hui Ti, a medical oncologist at Parkway Cancer Centre, Mount Elizabeth Hospital.
- Painless lumps
- Persistent itching and rashes around one or both nipples
- Bleeding or unusual discharge from the nipple
- The skin over your breast is swollen and thickened
- The skin over your breast is dimpled or puckered
- Your nipple is pulled in or retracted
2. Lumpy breasts do not necessarily indicate cancer
It’s normal for breasts to feel lumpy, swollen, tender and sore in the few days before the start of a period, says Dr Tan Yah Yuen, senior consultant, Breast Surgery, BreastCare Surgery at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre. In some women, the breasts may be lumpy all the time. Regular self-examinations will allow you to get used to the texture of your own breasts, so that you will be able to distinguish between normal lumpiness and a real lump that ought to be checked out.
A real lump will feel harder, like a stone or marble in the breast. It often feels more discrete, whereas normal breast tissue feels firm. Dr Tan recommends performing breast self-examinations in the five to seven days after your period is over, as this is usually when the breasts are least lumpy and tender.
If a hard, discrete lump is felt at any time during your cycle, you should seek medical attention right away. If you are not sure, you may wait until your next period is over before checking yourself again, or you can visit a nurse or doctor to clarify your symptoms.
3. Early detection is very important
This is because the cure rate of breast cancer is related to the stage at which it is diagnosed, says Dr Tan Yah Yuen. Stage 0 breast cancer has a cure rate of almost 100 per cent. Stage 1 breast cancer has a cure rate of more than 90 per cent, Stage 2 breast cancer, between 75 and 80 per cent, Stage 3 breast cancer, about 50 per cent, and so on.
4. More women under 40 are being diagnosed with breast cancer
According to Dr Tan Yah Yuen, more and more young women below the age of 40 are being diagnosed with breast cancer in Singapore. While the cause of the disease is not known, doctors suspect that this may be related to an increasing Western influence in our lifestyle, in terms of diet, lifestyle habits such as alcohol consumption, being overweight, increased stress, lack of regular exercise, and hormonal effects, for instance, not having children, being of older age at childbearing, less breastfeeding, starting menstruation at a young age, and the use of oral contraceptive pills.
5. Know the cancer-causing myths from the facts
There’s so much information out there about breast cancer that it’s difficult to tell the difference between what’s true and what’s not. Dr See busts these common myths.
“If I have bigger breasts, my breast cancer risk is higher”: Breast size is not associated with breast cancer risk. The disease is associated with risk factors such as family history, reproductive history, genetics, age, diet, body weight, physical activity, and previous history of breast cancer and benign breast disease.
All breast lumps are cancerous: Only one lump out of every 10 will be cancerous. This means that 90 per cent of all breast lumps are not cancer.
Radiation from a mammography is dangerous: The amount of radiation is actually very low and the benefits of mammograms outweigh the risk.
Having breast cancer means I have to get a mastectomy: Mastectomy is not required for all breast cancers. New technology and research, and improved therapies have provided patients with a variety of options, depending on the stage and type of breast cancer.
6. Breast self-examinations are easier than you think
Breast Self Examination (BSE) involves checking your own breasts regularly – about once a month. This helps you to familiarise yourself with your own breasts so that you are aware of any changes earlier. If you discover any inconsistencies, Dr See urges you to consult your doctor immediately. There are a few ways to do a BSE.
Facing a mirror
At each of the following positions:
- Arms at your sides
- With arms raised above or behind your head
- Hands on hips and chest muscles tensed
Look out for:
- Any change in the size or shape of the breast
- Any dimpling of the skin
- Any change in the appearance of your nipples
- Any discharge from your nipples (squeeze gently to check)
- Place a pillow under your left shoulder and position your left hand under your head.
- Using the middle three fingers of your right hand, hold your fingers flat to check your left breast
- Press firmly, using small circular movements to feel for lumps
- Start outside the edge of the breast, going inwards in circles
- Check your entire breast, armpit and behind of nipple
- Repeat these steps using your left hand to check your right breast
In the shower
- Raise your right arm above your head
- Soap up your left hand and check your right breast as described in the “lying down position”
- Repeat the steps using your right hand to check your left breast
7. Mammograms and ultrasounds are not the same
The role of imaging is more important than BSE, says Dr Felicia Tan, consultant breast surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital. Mammograms and ultrasounds each have a different utility: Mammograms are best for the early detection of cancer when there is no palpable lump and only white spots called micro-calcifications are seen. It is typically used as a screening tool. Ultrasounds are more useful for patients presenting with lumps and for the detection and characterisation of breast lumps. “I would advise ultrasound screening for all women, adding a mammogram for those above 40 years,” says Dr Tan. “Mammograms are not useful for women under the age of 40 as the breast tissue is very dense, making the detection of micro-calcifications difficult.”
Breast MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) are also available, but Dr See says that these are used only in very specific instances, with younger women or very high-risk women.
8. Remember these breast screening guidelines
Dr See recommends these checks for the different age groups:
- 39 years and below – Monthly BSE
- 40 to 49 years – Monthly BSE; Annual screening mammography
- 50 years and older – Monthly BSE; Two-yearly screening mammography
Says Dr See: “The average size of the lump detected with a routine mammogram is 1cm. By comparison, the average size of the lump found by regularly practising BSE is 2cm. Mammograms are thus able to find, on average, smaller lumps than self-examination alone. The bigger the tumour the greater the risk that it will spread to the lymph nodes, so it’s important to catch the tumours as early as possible. Mammograms find slower-growing cancer while BSEs detect faster- growing cancer.
“If detected very early, you might need only surgery and radiation, and you might not need chemotherapy. Also, the smaller the tumour, the better the chances of a cure. This is why it is important to get the tumours early.”
SUPPORT BREAST CANCER AWARENESS WITH HER WORLD’S BARE FOR HOPE CAMPAIGN!
As part of its 55th Anniversary celebrations, Her World magazine is launching its inaugural Bare for Hope event at the atrium at Paragon from October 17 to 25, featuring a 2.4m by 2.4m art piece jointly created by Adeline Yeo, Singapore’s first female finger-painting artist, and 55 women who have gamely volunteered to have their breasts scanned and printed into 3-D models that make up the artwork. The 55 volunteers include the Her World team, breast cancer survivors as well as celebrities Jade Seah and Oon Shu An.
To help raise funds to support Breast Cancer Awareness, there will be a silent auction of the 3-D model artwork from October 17 to November 15, 2015. All the funds raised through the auction will go towards Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF).
When you check out the exhibition you can help support the cause in two ways. First, you can take a picture with the ‘Bare for Hope’ pledge card, and upload it to your Instagram accounts with the hashtag #bareforhope. For every 10 hashtags, Parkway Cancer Centre (PCC) will sponsor a mammogram for women at the Star Shelter – a temporary refuge for survivors of domestic violence, a service by the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO). You will then receive a Her World goodie bag, which includes a three-month digital subscription to Her World and a best-selling VDL trial kit worth $15 (limited to first 50 pledgers per day). Alternatively, you can donate $5 to the BCF and receive a BCF pink ribbon pin.
The other way you can help is to buy a specially curated VDL Pink Set, available at all VDL stores in October, at a special rate of $68 (U.P. $79) or $65 if you flash the pledge card included in the October issue of Her World. For every Pink Set purchased, $1 will be donated to BCF. Each Pink Set consists of an Expert Color Lip Cube (in 10 shades of pink), a Festival Blusher, a Festival Nail Polish (Pink), as well as a limited edition pink makeup pouch.
So head down to Paragon this October to help support the fight against Breast Cancer!