October may be ending but that does not mean that we stop caring about Breast Cancer!
Each year, about 1900 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Singapore. Between 2011 and 2015, about 2105 women died of breast cancer and more than half were diagnosed between the age of 45 and 64 years old. Those who were diagnosed in stage 1 have a 91% chance of surviving beyond 5 years, compared to only 20% for those discovered at stage 4.
What is Breast Cancer
Female breasts are made up of milk glands and ducts, surrounded by stromal tissue and a layer of fat. Typically, each breast contains 12-15 milk glands. After pregnancy, milk is produced in the milk glands and is collected in the small ducts. These small ducts join together to form bigger ones, which eventually drain through the nipples.
Female hormones, also known as oestrogen, affect the breast in various ways. The breast can become tender, hard or lumpy during the premenstrual phase.
When a woman crosses 30 years old, the milk glands and ducts get smaller and are replaced by fibrous and fatty tissue. When the cells lining the glands and ducts grow uncontrollably, breast cancer is developed.
When the cancer is confined within the glands and ducts, it is at a non-invasive stage and when detected at this stage, breast cancer can be treated with a high chance of cure. When the cancer breaches the stomal tissue, it is now invasive and can spread to the lymph glands in the armpit, or spread via the bloodstream to other parts of the body. The organs most commonly affected by this are the lungs, bones, and liver.
Are You at Risk of Breast Cancer?
There are many risk factors that are associated with breast cancer. Knowing these risk factors can help to prevent the occurrence of breast cancer, and knowing the signs and symptoms will aid in early detection and greater chances of cure.
The chances of a woman in Singapore developing breast cancer in her lifetime stands at about 5%. Some risks are unmodifiable while some other risks can be alleviated by changing lifestyle habits.
Age and Sex
As you get older, the chance of getting breast cancer increases. 70% of all breast cancers are diagnosed in women above the age of 40. Breast cancer affects men as well, but the risk is much lower.
There are a few types of genes that are responsible for breast cancer, and two of them are BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women who inherit the abnormal forms of these genes have a 40% to 60% possibility of developing breast cancer.
If your family history has the following characteristics, you might have inherited the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes:
- Relatives who developed breast cancer before the age of 40
- Relatives who developed breast cancer in both breasts simultaneously
- More than two generations of relatives with breast cancer
- Relatives with ovarian cancer
A woman with sisters, mother or maternal grandmother having breast cancer is twice as vulnerable to breast cancer themselves, as compared to a woman without a family history of breast cancer. It is recommended for such women to start breast screening at 35 years old.
A woman who has had a prolonged exposure to oestrogen is more likely to get breast cancer.
Here are some factors that can increase your risk of breast cancer:
- Not having children or having the first child after the age of 35
- Onset of menstruation before the age of 11 (early menstruation)
- Cessation of menstruation after the age of 55 (late menopause)
In order to reduce risk, girls below the age of 11 should be encouraged to do more exercise as physical activity can delay the onset of menstruation.
Breast-feeding can also decrease exposure to oestrogen and lower a woman’s risk of breast cancer if carried out for more than a year.
Eating too much red meat and animal fats, and too little fibre may increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. It is best for women to limit the intake of saturated animal fats to less than 20% of daily fat allowance, and to raise the intake of fruits and vegetables to 5 servings daily.
Consuming 1 to 2 glasses of alcohol daily can increase a woman’s risk by 1.5 times.
Foods that can reduce risk of breast cancer consist of:
- Soy products in beancurd and soya bean juice
- Omega 3 oil from fish
- Vitamin A, Selenium, Vitamin C and Vitamin E
Body Weight and Physical Activity
Especially in post-menopausal women, weight gain is associated with a greater probability of breast cancer. Physical exercise is recommended as it lowers a woman’s level of oestrogen in her body.
Intake of Hormones
Post-menopausal women who are users of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) have a 30% increased chance of breast cancer. However, this risk disappears 3 to 5 years after stopping the treatment.
Girls between the age of 10-15 who consume oral contraceptive pills have an increased risk of breast cancer.
Signs and Symptoms
In decreasing order of frequency, these are some of the more common symptoms a woman might get if she has breast cancer:
- Breast lumps (8 of 10 lumps are benign)
- Bloody nipple discharge
- Skin changes (skin redness or skin sore on the breast)
- Itchy rash of the nipple
- Breast pain
Ways You Can Support a Breast Cancer Patient
There are many ways you can support a breast cancer patient. If you are a breast cancer patient yourself, these support groups and organisations can help you in your road to recovery!
Bishana Ladies Group
Members meet once a month for various activities which include educational talks, workshops, social & recreational activities and outings.
Every third Friday of the month, 6.30-9pm
Every third Saturday of the month, 10am-12.30pm
Find out more about Bishana Ladies Group here!
Reach to Recovery
Reach to Recovery (RTR) is a breast cancer support group that aims to help women cope with life challenges brought about by breast cancer. Women involved in this programme are survivors of breast cancer.
Every fourth Saturday of the month, 10.30am-12.30pm
For more information about Reach to Recovery, head over here to find out.
Look Good Feel Better
Specially designed for women undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy, the Look Good Feel Good programme builds self-esteem through a practical approach to the appearance-related side effects of cancer. Sign up here.
Breast Cancer Foundation
If you simply want to learn more about how to support a loved one who has breast cancer, the Pink Ribbon Pages, a 36-page guidebook by the Breast Cancer Foundation, offers comprehensive information.
Show your support for breast cancer awareness by getting a Pink Ribbon pin! The list of locations where you can get one is listed here.
Be spotted wearing the Pink Ribbon Pin and stand to win attractive prizes in the Breast Cancer Foundation’s Pin It To Win It Lucky Draw!
Knitted Knockers are perfect for women who have had to go through mastectomies. These knockers are light, pretty, soft and they fit in bras perfectly. This wonderful site has resources to help to knit your own knitted knockers or request one.
Knitted Knockers Singapore
Contact Name: Ms. Lyn Ee
Address: 200 Jalan Sultan, #03-17 Textile Centre, Singapore
Phone: +65 98303346
We are a group of volunteers who want to reach out to breast cancer survivors and share with them the knowledge of the Knitted Knockers. Our Knockers are specially knitted by Those Who Care. If you are a breast cancer survivor or know anyone who is one, please contact us for more information. All inquiries are welcome. Our Knitted Knockers are given out free of cost.
Let’s all work to spread breast cancer awareness! Early detection saves lives, saves breasts.
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