Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Singaporean women. All women are at risk of getting breast cancer, and the chances of developing it increases with age.
All women are at risk of getting breast cancer, and the chances of developing it increases with age. Your risk increases if:
- You are 50 years or older and/or
- Your mother, sister or daughter has had breast cancer
The good news is, early detection can increase your chance of survival. Hence, every woman aged 50 and above should screen regularly for breast cancer.
Understanding breast cancer
Breast cancer is cancer that starts in the breast tissues. As with most cancers, the exact cause of breast cancer is not known. Experts believe that it may be due to genetic and environmental factors.
The chances of getting breast cancer increases 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 first child after the age of 30
- Having fewer children or never having children
- Being on hormone replacement therapy
- Weight gain, especially after menopause
However, the absence of these risk factors does not mean that one is protected against breast cancer. Regular screening and performing breast self-examination are important for early detection of breast cancer, as early stages of the disease may not have any symptoms.
What to look out for
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.
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. Out of every 10 women who need further tests, 9 will have normal results. Having to go for further tests does not mean you have cancer.
The test(s) you need will depend on your mammogram result. The doctor will recommend suitable tests for you, such as:
- Repeat mammogram where different views of the breasts are taken
- Ultrasound where sound waves are used to see the breast tissue
If breast cancer is confirmed after the further tests, treatment options will depend on the following:
- Stage of the 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:
2) Radiation therapy: Use of high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours.
3) Chemotherapy: Uses drugs to destroy cancer cells.
4) Hormone therapy: Uses anti-oestrogen therapy (such as Tamoxifen) or an aromatase inhibitor (such as Anastrozole) to stop the 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 monthly breast self-examination also keeps you aware of any changes to your breasts.
The Health Promotion Board offers BreastScreen Singapore, a national breast cancer screening programme. Click here to find out more.
(1) 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 felt but it is important for the breast tissue to be compressed in order to take a clear X-ray.
(2) Practise 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, whole grains and low in fats
- Take less than one alcoholic drink a day or avoid alcohol completely
For more information, please call BreastScreen Singapore at 1800 333 3030 or email us at HPB_BreastScreen_Singapore@hpb.gov.sg
Click here to learn more about BreastScreen Singapore.
Information paper on Breast Cancer. 2010 National Registry of Diseases Office.