Breast Cancer

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the breast. These cells grow and develop into a cancerous growth that can have the potential to spread to other parts of the body.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Singaporean women. 1

More than 25% of all cancers diagnosed in women are breast cancers. Between 2011 and 2015, about 1 927 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in Singapore each year.2

Is breast cancer hereditary?

In 5-10% of cases, breast cancer is hereditary. The cancer is caused by specific gene mutations (changes) in the BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene one) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene two) genes.2 There are several other genes other than BRCA1 and BRCA2  that also help make up this percentage.

These genes can develop abnormally which may then be passed down through family generations, increasing the chance of breast (and ovarian) cancers.2

Stages of breast cancer

Breast cancer is typically classified into stages from 0 – IV based on:

  • tumour size (T)
  • if the cancer has involved any lymph nodes (N)
  • whether the cancer has metastasised (spread) to other parts of the body (M).3

Stage 0 is the earliest stage of breast cancer and Stage IV is the most serious, meaning the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.4

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer

Breast tissue often feels lumpy, so it can be difficult to know the difference between what is normal and what could be a cancerous lump.

Some common symptoms of breast cancer to keep an eye out for include: 5

Changes

in the size or shape of your breast

Any new lumps

in the breast or under your arm

Discharge of fluid

(except breast milk) from the nipple, including blood

Dimpling or a ‘pulling’

of skin on your breast

Breast pain or swelling

Dry, flaky red skin

around the nipple area

Knowing your breasts is extremely important to help you detect any potential signs of breast cancer.6

You can do this by performing a routine self-examination each month.

Treatment

Frequently asked questions

What causes breast cancer?

There is no single cause of breast cancer, however there are are a number of risk factors that can increase your chance of developing breast cancer including genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors.

These can include:

  • Gender – being female increases your risk
  • Having a family history of, or close relative who has had, breast cancer
  • Aging – women who are 50-years-old are 10 times more at risk to develop breast cancer than women who are 30-years-old 11
  • Drinking alcohol 11
  • Being overweight
Does hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increase the risk of breast cancer?

There is convincing evidence that combined (oestrogen-progesterone) replacement therapy increases the risk of breast cancer.11

Risk increases the longer that HRT is used, and is higher in women who start replacement therapy close to menopause.11

What can I do to decrease my breast cancer risk?

There are several lifestyle factors you can control to help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer, including:

  • Getting regular exercise – At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day12
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet – Eat a fibre-rich diet from grain and legume sources, as well as enjoy a variety of fruit (2 serves) and vegetables (5 serves) per day, limit your intake of salt, saturated fats, and avoid all processed meat13
  • Reducing alcohol intake – If you choose to drink, limit your alcohol intake to no more than two standard drinks a day. 11
  • Maintaining a healthy weight – Maintain a healthy weight within the normal BMI (Body Mass Index)* range of 18.5 – 24.9kg/m2.14

*To calculate your BMI = (weight (kg))/(height(m))2

Where can I find out more information about breast cancer?

The Breast Cancer Foundation can provide you with more information about the different stages of breast cancer.

How common is breast cancer in men?

Breast cancer in men is rare and only makes up approximately 1% of all breast cancer cases.

Like women, there are a number of factors that can increase male breast cancer risk. These include: 20

  • Age – the average age of breast cancer diagnosis is 69 years
  • Family history of breast cancer, or a known BRCA gene mutation
  • Hormonal imbalances – such as increased levels of oestrogens
  • Previous radiotherapy treatment

For more information, click here.

References

For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Breast cancer. (2019). Health Hub. Retrieved on 29 May 2019
  2. Breast Cancer – What it is. (n.d). Sing Health. Retrieved on 29 May 2019
  3. Stages, types and treatment of breast cancer. (n.d). National Breast Cancer Foundation. Retrieved on 18 December 2018
  4. Breast Cancer Stages. (2017). American Cancer Society. Retrieved on 19 December 2018
  5. What are the symptoms of breast cancer. (2018). Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Retrieved on 18 December 2018
  6. Breast Self Examination. (n.d). Breast Cancer Foundation. Retrieved on 30 May 2019
  7. Surgery for breast cancer. (2016). American Cancer Society. Retrieved on 18 December 2018
  8. Radiation for breast cancer. (2017). American Cancer Society. Retrieved on 18 December 2018
  9. Chemotherapy for breast cancer. (2017). American Cancer Society. Retrieved on 18th December 2018
  10. Hormone therapy for breast cancer. (2017). American Cancer Society. Retrieved on 18 December 2018
  11. Risk factors for breast cancer: A review of the Evidence. (2018). Cancer Australia. Retrieved on 18 December 2018 
  12. Physical Activity and sedentary behaviour. (n.d). Cancer Australia. Australian Government. Retrieved on 18 December 2018
  13. (n.d) Cancer Australia. Australian Government. Retrieved on 18 December 2018
  14. Overweight and obesity. (n.d). Cancer Australia. Australian Government. Retrieved on 18 December 2018
  15. Stage 0 – pre-breast cancer. (n.d) National Breast Cancer Foundation. Retrieved on 13 January 2019 
  16. Stage 1 or 2 – Early breast cancer. (n.d). National Breast Cancer Foundation. Retrieved on 13 January 2019
  17. Stage 2 or 3 – Locally advanced breast cancer. (n.d). National Breast Cancer Foundation. Retrieved on 13 January 2019
  18. Stage 4 – Metastatic breast cancer. (n.d). National Breast Cancer Foundation. Retrieved on 13 January 2019 
  19. Targeted Therapies. (n.d). Icon Cancer Centre. Retrieved on 13 January 2019
  20. Men get breast cancer too. (2016). Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA). Retrieved on 14 January 2019 

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