Breast Awareness and Breast Cancer Prevention


Title:Breast Awareness and Breast Cancer Prevention

Heading: Breast awareness & Breast cancer prevention

Narrator: Isn’t it great to have a nice new dress that boosts your confidence? When you put that new dress on, you will treat it with care. However, if one day you find that a button is missing, what would you do? Would you repair it at once? Or would you just leave it? In fact, being breast aware is as simple as taking care of your dress. To stay healthy, we simply need to pay more attention to our breasts. In Hong Kong, Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers that affect women. It is the third leading cause of cancer deaths among women, after lung and colorectal cancers. In the past two decades, the incidence of breast cancer has shown an upward trend. In each year for the past 10 years, there were over 2000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed, and 400-500 women died from the disease.Actually, the risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. Family history of breast cancer is one of the major risk factors. The larger the number of relatives with breast cancer a woman has,particularly if the affected relatives are closely related , for example, her mother or sister, the greater the risk for the woman to eventually develop breast cancer. In addition, the woman’s risk increases further if her affected relatives develop breast cancer at a younger age. Some familial breast cancers are caused by inheriting specific gene mutations. These gene mutations increase the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. However, in western countries only a small number of breast cancer cases are due to gene mutations. In Hong Kong, genetic testing for breast cancer risk is not yet common.In addition to family history of breast cancer, other risk factors for breast cancer include previous history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer or endometrial cancer, having started menstruation at an early age (before age 12), late menopause (after age 55), having no children or having the first child after the age of 30, and a history of radiation therapy to the chest area before the age of 30. Besides, taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy can also increase the risk of breast cancer, but the risk decreases gradually after stopping. Breast cancer risk may also be increased due to lifestyle-related behaviour such as obesity, alcohol consumption, lack of physical activity, and not breastfeeding. Currently, mammogram examination is a commonly used method to screen for breast cancer. This screening test uses low dose X-ray to look for early asymptomatic breast cancers with the view that early diagnosis and effective treatment will prevent the progression of the disease and thereby deaths from breast cancer. During the mammogram examination, a radiographer takes images of the breasts from two different angles by fixing the breasts between 2 plates. Evidence has shown that in some western countries where there is an organised breast cancer screening programme, the mortality rate from breast cancer has reduced. However, in Hong Kong, currently there is insufficient evidence to recommend for or against routine mammography screening in the general female population. Women who are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer should consult doctors to discuss whether they need to undergo screening. The mammogram examination is not 100% accurate in finding breast cancer. Therefore, women of all ages should take good care of themselves and always be breast aware. Breast awareness means being aware of how your breasts normally look and feel when you are bathing, getting dressed or lying down, and how the breast changes according to the time of your menstrual cycle. Being breast aware can help you detect unusual changes early so that you can seek prompt medical treatment. Women of childbearing age may notice that their breasts feel different throughout a menstrual cycle. Just before a menstrual period, the breasts may feel a bit swollen, tender and lumpy. These are normal physiological changes which disappear after menstruation. Abnormal breast change refers to a persistent and unusual condition of the breast. This includes changes in the breast shape, size or appearance, lumps or swelling of all or part of a breast or underarm, persistent breast or underarm pain, dimpling or puckering of the skin over the breast, nipple retraction (that is, the nipple turns inward), bleeding or discharge from the nipple, or swelling of the nipple. Although breast pain is one of the symptoms of breast cancer, the pain can be caused by many other factors, such as cyclical premenstrual swelling, wearing an ill-fitting bra, breast infection or inflammation, fibrocystic conditions, and injury or inflammation to the chest bones and cartilage etc. Therefore, if you have unexplained breast pain, particularly if it is persistent, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible. Although nipple discharge can be a symptom of breast cancer, it does not necessarily mean that there is already cancer. Pregnancy, breastfeeding, intraductal papillomas, mammary duct ectasia, hormonal problems, and drugs, etc. are all possible reasons of nipple discharge. When there is nipple discharge, observe the colour of the discharge, check whether it is blood-stained, whether it affects one or both breasts, and whether there is associated breast lump or other unusual breast changes; and seek medical advice immediately. Apart from breast awareness, according to research evidence, having a healthy lifestyle by maintaining a normal body weight, exercising for at least 30 minutes daily, avoiding or limiting alcohol intake, having more fruits and vegetables, and restricting intake of foods that are energy-dense, or high in sugar or fat, can decrease the risk of breast cancer. It also helps to start having children at a younger age and to breastfeed your children. Some might wonder whether taking tonics or supplements such as bird’s nest, Angelica Sinensis (or Dong Quai), or other Traditional Chinese Medicine may increase the risk of cancer. Also, is it really suitable for a breast cancer patient to take various kinds of tonics? According to Traditional Chinese Medicine literature, bird’s nest, Angelica Sinensis, Hasma, royal jelly, Cordyceps Sinensis and spores of Ganoderma Lucidum etc. have invigorating properties, and they can be used for medicinal purpose as well as being taken as a supplement. However, each may have different effects on different persons, for example, replenishing the “Qi” and the “Blood”, nourishing and balancing the Yin and the Yang etc., so you should consult a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner before taking any Chinese medicinal supplements. To sum up, women of all ages must be breast aware. Let’s all put words into action, have a healthy lifestyle and be breast aware in our daily life!