October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual international campaign organized to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its origin, prevention, detection, treatment, and care. It is often a topic that gets brushed off as people may find it difficult to talk about it. Being a female-owned business, the team at All Things Delicious hopes to spread awareness on the importance of early detection and to empower women to take immediate action in doing monthly self-examination or to improve their lifestyles. If this short introduction has sparked your interest, continue reading as we would also like to share with you the 5 factors that increase your risk of breast cancer here.
1. Monthly Breast Self-Examination
Most probably the best way to help you understand the normal look and feel of your breasts so that you can identify any changes quickly. We strongly encourage all women to perform a breast self-exam once every month to detect and prevent breast cancer. Breast self-exams are the most convenient, no-cost technique that can be used at any age. The best time to examine your breasts is 7 to 10 days after the start of your period when your breasts are least tender and swollen. Below are 6 easy steps to improve your awareness of your own breasts and help notice any changes, #KnowYourNormal.
2. Clinical Breast Exam
A clinical breast exam is a physical exam done by a healthcare professional, often done during a regular medical check-up. During the breast examination, they will feel for lumps and other abnormalities and may recommend more tests if there’s anything unusual. However, our recommendation is that all women should be educated on the importance of changes to the typical appearance and texture of their breasts such that they can detect and report any changes to their doctor right away. In fact, it is recommended by experts to do breast self-examinations every month (see point number 1 above!) just by looking at your breasts and feeling them from time to time. The key is knowing what’s normal for your breasts so that you’ll notice any changes in how they look or feel.
Below are the 3 steps a healthcare provider normally follows. If you prefer having a female healthcare professional to conduct the examination, do call the clinic or hospital in advance to ensure your request can be fulfilled. Your comfort is a very important consideration.
- Step 1: Undress from the waist up. The healthcare provider will look at your breasts for changes in size, shape, or symmetry.
- Step 2: Lift your arms over your head, hands on your hips, or lean forward. The healthcare provider will examine any skin changes including rashes, dimpling, or redness.
- Step 3: Lay on your back with arms behind your head. The healthcare provider will examine your breasts with pads of the fingers to detect lumps or other changes. The area under both arms (armpits) will also be examined. Besides that, he/ she will also gently press around the nipple area to check for any discharge. If there’s any, a sample may be collected for examination under a microscope.
3. Mammography Screening
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast and it is currently the most reliable screening tool for breast cancer. It is able to detect tiny abnormalities even before they can be seen or felt, giving you the best chance for early detection. Such early detection can greatly increase chances of recovery as well as provide more treatment options. During the procedure, the breast is compressed for a few seconds to spread the tissue apart and get a good image of the breast. Nonetheless, some women may find this uncomfortable or painful, but rest assured it is temporary and will last only for a few seconds to detect early signs of breast cancer. If you are still in doubt about mammography screening, there are studies that have shown breast screening as the most effective in women between the ages of 50 and 701.
So at what age should you go for mammography screening? Generally, mammography is normally not recommended for younger women as it’s difficult for small changes to be detected. Below is a summary of who is more suitable for mammography screening. P/S: try to avoid the week right before your period as it will help to lessen discomfort.
If you are keen to know where you can go for a mammogram, you will be happy to know that the Ministry of Health has launched a nationwide campaign to screen women above the age of 50 for breast cancer. Under this campaign, the cost of screening is heavily subsidised for Singaporean Citizens, Permanent Residents as well as those in the Merdeka and Pioneer Generations. Breast screening has been made available as part of a general health check in most restructured hospitals and specialist outpatient clinics, which is great news because getting screened has become a lot more accessible for the majority of us. There should be nothing stopping you from making that appointment! Share this information or do yourself a favour by booking an appointment for mammography through the Breast Screen Singapore Hotline: 1800 333 3030. Remember, early detection is the best protection. And feel free to request a female healthcare professional/radiologist if that makes you more comfortable.
Screening Centres for Mammogram
|Ang Mo Kio Polyclinic
|Bukit Batok Polyclinic
|Khoo Teck Puat Hospital
|Bukit Merah Polyclinic
|KK Women's And Children's Hospital
|Choa Chu Kang Polyclinic
|Mt Alvernia Hospital
|National Cancer Centre
|National University Hospital
|Orchard Imaging Centre
|Radiologic Clinic (At Health Promotion Board)
|Pasir Ris Polyclinic
|Radiologic Clinic - Breast Imaging Centre
|Singapore General Hospital
|StarMed Specialist Centre Pte Ltd
|Toa Payoh Polyclinic
|Tan Tock Seng Hospital
|Thomson Medical Centre
|Thomson Medical Centre
4. Getting a Breast Biopsy
The results of the examination and mammography will guide the next steps. While mammography is useful to detect lumps, it cannot say for sure if the lump is cancer. If a breast biopsy is ordered to investigate further, it will likely be scheduled within the next few days after the examination or mammography. A breast biopsy involves removing a small sample of tissue from the breast for further examination under a microscope to check for the presence of breast cancer. It is normally done via fine-needle aspiration biopsy, core needle biopsy or surgical biopsy. After the procedure, the breast tissue samples will be sent off to be screened for breast cancer. Many women can be anxious after the procedure, which is totally normal, so confide in someone you trust during this stressful time. In the event, if breast cancer is detected, discuss with your respective doctor the treatment options. Most of the time, breast cancer is eminently treatable.
5. Breast Ultrasound & Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Another way to detect breast cancer early is through regular breast ultrasound imaging and MRI. Ultrasound imaging provides detailed pictures of areas within the breast to detect the presence of lumps. On the other hand, breast MRI is not a routine screening for all women but it is sometimes used for future investigation or for women of certain risk profiles.
By now, we know that early detection is the best protection so wouldn’t it be better if you could take measures to decrease your risk of breast cancer? Research2 shows that lifestyle changes can help and it applies to women at high risk too. So why not learn and share these 4 ways to help reduce breast cancer risk with your girlfriends!
- Limit alcohol. Study3 have shown that drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer so try limiting yourself to one drink a day, as even small amounts increase the risk of breast cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Make sure you maintain a healthy weight. If you are keen to lose weight, consult your doctor about healthy strategies. Reduce your daily calorie intake and gradually increase your exercise level.
- Be physically active. Keeping a healthy weight through physical activity is another way to prevent breast cancer. In order to stay in good shape, most adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week in addition to strength training twice a week.
- Limit postmenopausal hormone therapy. Combination hormone therapy may increase the risk of breast cancer so do consult with your doctor about the risks and benefits of hormone therapy. There may be non-hormonal therapies and medications that can help manage your symptoms. Take short-term hormone therapy only if the benefits outweigh the risks. In that case, use the lowest dose that works best for you and let your doctor monitor how long you're taking the hormones.
As covered in this blog, we hope that our breast cancer research on ways to detect and reduce the risk of breast cancer has increased your awareness for breast cancer, especially on prevention and early detection which could help save lives. There’s really nothing to be afraid of so why not start a conversation about breast cancer with your girlfriends today?