October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which means one of the most popular accessories that everybody is wearing this month is a pink ribbon to raise awareness about this common cancer. However, besides putting on this iconic pin to spread the word about the importance of early detection, it is essential to take personal action to ensure your own health and peace of mind too.
Did you know breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer among women in Singapore with one in 11 women getting breast cancer in their lifetime. Each year, over 1,000 women are diagnosed with it, and over 400 will die from this cancer.
While these statistics may sound grim, the reality is that the chances of surviving breast cancer is high, provided the disease is detected early. Most women are aware that a mammography screening (a gentle x-ray examination which can register very small irregularities in the breast) is a reliable way to detect early symptoms so that the appropriate treatment can be administered as soon as possible.
However, it might come as a surprise that mammograms are recommended only for women aged above 40. Younger women tend to have denser breast tissue, which makes it more difficult for mammograms to pick up the changes. That is why mammograms are recommended once a year for those aged 40-49 years and once every two years for those aged above 50.
Instead, for those aged 20 and up, doctors strongly recommend a monthly breast self-examination. The main aim of a self-examination is to allow you to become accustomed to how your breast tissue normally looks and feels, so that you will be able to tell the difference in the event of an abnormal development. This is why on top of regular mammograms, even older women above 40 are encouraged to do their own monthly self-examinations.
Some unusual symptoms you should be alert to include persistent lumps, a change in the size or shape of your breast, dimpling of the skin with the appearance of orange peel, retraction of the nipple, nipple discharge or rashes. Should you notice these changes, stay calm but do make an appointment with a doctor who can conduct a clinical examination. Subsequently, you may be referred for additional tests to appropriately diagnose your case.
If you, like many women, have to juggle multiple responsibilities and find it challenging to make time to visit a doctor, you can schedule a Speedoc housecall to suit your schedule. Our Medical Council qualified doctors-on-demand will travel to your home 24/7 at your convenience. Following your consultation, our doctors may refer you to our radiology partners and facilitate the ordering of scans at imaging centres nearest to you. We are also able to provide other female-health services, including cancer marker and Pap smears, birth control and consultation for irregular menses.
Most importantly, prevention is better than cure. While it is good to remain vigilant, there are a variety of lifestyle changes you can adopt to lower your risk of contracting breast cancer. Breast cancer has been associated with prolonged exposure to oestrogen, so lowering your body’s level of oestrogen can help to reduce the risk. You can achieve that by exercising at least three times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes to keep your weight at a healthy range.
Do cut down on excessive consumption of red meat, alcohol and animal fat and increase intake of fruits and vegetables. Food products such as beancurd and soya bean milk as well as Omega 3 from fish oil may also help. In addition, new mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their babies instead of formula feeding them if possible.
By taking steps to lead a sensible and healthy lifestyle and doing regular self-examinations and mammograms, you do not have to live in fear of this commonly contracted cancer anymore. Now, do your part to empower more women to take charge of their own breast health by sharing this post!