Things You Can Do to Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer

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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! 



We want people to be aware of breast cancer because:

  1. It is common.  Almost all of us would know someone – mother, daughter, sister, friend, colleague — who has breast cancer.  Although uncommon, men also get it.
  2. It can affect the people we love, including ourselves, at any stage in our lives even if we don’t carry the genes or have a history of the disease in our families.
  3. We have accessible treatments and various options of treatment if it is detected early.  A mammogram is the standard screening tool used worldwide; it can detect abnormalities before you have symptoms.
  4. It does not have to be a death sentence.  While treating breast cancer early does not mean we are protected against recurrence, it does mean a better chance of survival.  The person affected by breast cancer can look forward to the end of treatment and being cancer-free again.


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? 


  1. If you have symptoms during pregnancy and the doctor orders a diagnostic mammogram, know that it can be performed safely with an abdominal shield that protects radiation effects on the growing foetus; there are also other complementary modalities, such as US and MRI that can be used depending on how far along you are in the pregnancy.
  2. There is no evidence that breast cancer itself can harm the foetus.
  3. You may receive treatment while carrying the baby to term.  Depending on the type/stage of your cancer, how far along you are in the pregnancy, your overall health and personal preferences, your team of doctors will recommend a treatment plan so that cure or control of cancer can be achieved while trying to protect the growing foetus.  You may undergo surgery or chemotherapy first, have the baby delivered and complete the rest of your cancer treatment after.  In cases where a woman has aggressive breast cancer, like inflammatory breast cancer diagnosed early on in pregnancy, and needs chemotherapy without delay—which is unsafe for the baby if given in the first trimester—she may be advised to think about ending the pregnancy. 
  4. Breastfeeding—usually from the untreated breast—is possible and safe for some mothers if she is not undergoing further chemotherapy or taking hormone or targeted therapy drugs after delivery (these substances can enter the breast milk and be passed on to the baby).  


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

Thanks for sharing!