Breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Singaporean women. All women are at risk of breast cancer, and the chances of developing it increase with age.

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All women are at risk of breast cancer, and the chances of developing it increase with age. Your risk increases if:
You are 50 years of age or older; and/or
Your mother, sister or daughter has had breast cancer

The good news is, early detection can increase your chances of survival. Hence, every woman aged 50 and above should be screened regularly for breast cancer.

Understanding Breast Cancer 

Breast cancer is cancer that starts in the breast tissues. As with most cancers, the exact cause is not known. Experts believe that it may be due to genetic and environmental factors.

Related: Breast and Cervical Cancer Subsidies

Risk Factors 

The chances of getting breast cancer increase with age. Other risk factors for breast cancer include:
Having a family history of breast cancer
A history of malignant or benign (non-cancerous) breast disease
A history of ovarian cancers
Early onset of menstruation
Late menopause
Having your first child after the age of 30
Having fewer children or never having children
Being on hormone replacement therapy
Weight gain, especially after the menopause

However, the absence of these risk factors does not mean protection against breast cancer. Regular screening, including performing regular breast self-examinations, is important for the early detection of breast cancer, as early stages of the disease may not have any symptoms.


Signs of Breast Cancer

Early breast cancer usually does not have any symptoms. This is why regular mammograms are important. If you experience any of the symptoms described below, please see your doctor immediately.


 

Stages of Breast Cancer 

There are five stages of breast cancer: 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4. At the earlier stages (0 and 1), treatment can result in survival rates of over 90 percent.  

Related: Cancers Rise, but Survival Rates Also Up

Further Testing 

Even if your mammogram results are normal, you should still continue with your monthly breast self-examination and regular mammogram once every two years.

If your results are abnormal and you are asked to go for further tests, do not panic. Nine out of every 10 women who need further tests will have normal results. Having to go for further tests does not mean you have cancer.


Related: 5 Ways to Psych Yourself Up for a Mammogram

The test(s) you need will depend on your mammogram result. The doctor will recommend suitable tests for you, such as:
A repeat mammogram where different views of the breasts are taken
An ultrasound where sound waves are used to examine the breast tissue

Related: Screen for Cancer Before It's Too Late

Breast Cancer Treatment 

If breast cancer is confirmed after the further tests, treatment options will depend on the following:
Stage of breast cancer (whether early or late)
Types of cancer cells
Age and general health of the individual

Early-stage disease may require only surgery while late-stage disease often will require a combination of the following treatment options:
Breast cancer surgery
Radiation therapy: this uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours
Chemotherapy: this uses drugs to destroy cancer cells
Hormone therapy: this uses anti-oestrogen therapy (such as Tamoxifen) or an aromatase inhibitor (such as Anastrozole) to stop hormone-responsive cancer cells from growing


Protect Yourself from Breast Cancer 

The best way to protect yourself from breast cancer is to go for regular mammograms. Doing a monthly breast self-examination also keeps you aware of any changes to your breasts.



 

Go for a mammogram every two years; during the process, a female radiographer will put your breast between two flat plastic plates and compress for a few seconds. This is performed on one breast at a time. Some discomfort may be experienced but it is important for the breast tissue to be compressed in order to capture a clear X-ray.

Do also practise a monthly breast self-examination:


 

In addition, you can also make changes to your lifestyle:
Maintain a healthy weight
Stay physically active
Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in fats
Take less than one alcoholic drink a day or avoid alcohol completely

For more information about your recommended screenings, visit the Screen For Life page and FAQs on Screen for Life pages.

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