As we know, the world united in promoting Breast Cancer Awareness last month, with the main themes being early detection, mammography and cure. And it was for good reason!
WORDS DR JENDANA CHANYAPUTHIPONG
We want people to be aware of breast cancer because:
Know Your Risk and Be Breast-Aware
While there are many risk factors attributed to the development of breast cancer, such as prolonged period of reproductive age (counting from the time a woman has menses to the time of menopause) and various environmental/lifestyle factors like obesity, alcohol consumption, and previous radiation exposure to the chest for other cancer treatments, some young women are at a higher risk for getting breast cancer at an early age than compared with other women their age. She is at higher risk if she has (a) close relatives who were diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, especially at a young age (less than 45), (b) known genetic mutation in BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancer genes, or (c) had breast cancer or other breast conditions known as lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or atypical hyperplasia on previous breast biopsies. If you are at higher risk, your doctor may refer you to a genetic counsellor, recommend that you get screened earlier or provide medical options that can lower your risk. Regardless of whether you have risk factors, you should still know how your breasts normally look and feel, so that any changes will be quickly noticed and you can get them checked out without delay.
Things You can do to Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer or its Recurrence
‘Breast cancer’ is a complex disease with many different types under this big umbrella. In fact, most women who develop breast cancer do not have any known risk factors and even the young, fit and healthy woman can get it. However, you can help lower your risk of breast cancer (or recurrence) by staying physically fit through regular exercise, eating a healthy balanced diet, and avoiding alcohol. Why should we bother with a healthy lifestyle even if the fit still gets breast cancer? Because it makes sense, keeps you away from many different illnesses and gives you a good start in the fight against cancer. Think about it, should we bother living even if we know we will all die one day?
Breast Cancer Treatment and Fertility Preservation
If you’re a young woman diagnosed with breast cancer, and having a child after breast cancer treatment is important to you, know that 1) there are several options for preserving fertility before breast cancer treatment. Options include storing unfertilized eggs, fertilised eggs (embryos) or ovarian tissue. 2) Having a child after breast cancer treatment appears to be safe for women.
Motherhood, Pregnancy and Breast Cancer
If you are expecting, getting breast cancer is likely never going to be on your mind. The bad news? It does affect pregnant women and when it does, it tends to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage because of the significant breast changes during pregnancy that make small lumps difficult to be found. Hence, the emphasis on knowing how your breasts LOOK AND FEEL before, during, and after pregnancy. The good news?
Our Best Protection is Early Detection
While there is no magic bullet to stop breast cancer from striking anyone, nor the magic medicine that can 100 per cent guarantee the cancer is put away forever, we can be proactive about our own breasts, and overall, health, and own the decision we make for ourselves and our loved ones. I want to acknowledge the brave women (and men) who had or are going through breast cancer treatment. I find that women—especially mothers—have this incredible power through vulnerability—they often find the strength to carry on, to protect and live for what matters most to them no matter how hard things may seem.
Dr Jendana Chanyaputhipong is a breast surgeon at PanAsia Surgery Group