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breast cancerA woman’s breasts are an integral part of her femininity and identity. They nourish, nurture and comfort a woman’s children and they contribute to her sexuality and femininity. Sadly, breast cancer is the commonest cancer in women in Singapore and Asia. The number of women diagnosed with breast cancer is increasing at a rate of 3% annually.

In order to safely eliminate the possibility of breast cancer, it should be mandatory for every woman to examine her breasts on a monthly basis or go for regular checks. Fortunately, not all breast problems are breast cancer, benign breast disorders may arise as a result of the cyclical hormonal fluctuations that occur in every woman before menopause or during the menstrual cycle. These disorders are in fact part of a spectrum that extends from a normal state, to overt benign disease.

Common Signs & Symptoms

  • Early breast cancer does not have any signs
  • Breast lump
  • Nipple discharge
  • skin changes on the breast
  • spontaneous deformity of breast/nipple

Screening

As early breast cancer rarely have symptoms, screening helps to detect the abnormality early.

The best way to protect yourself from breast cancer is to go for regular mammograms. While doing monthly breast self-examination also keeps you aware of any changes to your breasts, the mammogram is currently the most reliable screening tool for breast cancer. It helps detect presence of any cancerous lumps even before they can be felt with the hand. 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 felt but it is important for the breast tissue to be compressed in order to take a clear X-ray.

Mammogram is advised for women aged 40 years and above.

Younger women can opt to do ultrasound scans of the breasts.

If your screening results are normal, you should continue with your monthly breast self-examination and regular mammogram

Important lifestyle factors

Obesity has been shown to be associated with breast cancer. Smoking and regular alcohol consumption is known risk factors for breast cancer development.

Having children at a younger age and breastfeeding for a minimum of 6 months duration are protective factors.

Treatment

The aim of treatment is to stop any spread of the cancer and, if possible to remove all cancer from the body. In deciding on the most suitable treatment, your doctor will consider the size of the tumour, the type of breast cancer and whether the tumour has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. The lymph nodes in the armpit are of particular importance.

Breast cancer diagnosis does not mean that a woman will lose her breast. Early detection of the tumour allows for breast preservation.

Advanced surgical techniques such as oncoplastic breast surgery has also allowed for more preservation and achievement of a more aesthetically pleasing breast.

The success of treatment outcome is due to combination treatment after surgery which includes chemotherapy, radiotherapy when indicated.

The more you know about breast cancer and the treatment options available the better equipped you will be to deal with it. Try and speak openly about your condition with your partner, your family, your friends and your doctor rather than keeping your feelings bottled up. It may also be helpful to speak to fellow breast cancer patients, psychologists and social workers from support groups like the Breast Cancer Foundation.

About the Author

Dr Radhika LakshmananDr Radhika Lakshmanan is a general surgeon with more than 15 years of surgical experience. Before joining the private sector, she was a consultant surgeon in the Department of Surgery at Khoo Teck Phuat Hospital where she still practices as a visiting consultant.
Read more about her here.

Dr Radhika Lakshmanan
General Surgeon
Breast & Oncoplastic Surgery

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