Were you aware that breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Hong Kong? 1 out of 14 Hong Kong women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, people around the world show their support to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer, so do we!
As a health and medical community, we wish to educate people and correct misconceptions about breast cancer. We have partnered up with Dr. Alice Ng, Clinical Oncologist from ICON Cancer Centre, to answer 8 common — and important — questions people often think about.
Every individual with breast cancer may have different symptoms. The most common one is breast mass. Unlike what most people think, cancerous breast mass is often painless. However, some people might experience pain, tenderness or burning sensation in the breast due to skin changes. It is important not to ignore any signs and symptoms our body flagged up. If you have any other concerns, be sure to check with your doctor right away.
Some warning signs of breast cancer:
Knowing your breasts is crucial to help you detect any early signs of breast cancer. Women of all ages are recommended to perform a breast self-examination at least once a month.
Step 1: Inspect your breasts with arms on your hips:
Step 2: Raise your arms high overhead and look for the same changes. Step 3: Feel your breast while lying down:
Step 4: Finally, feel your breast while standing or sitting up:
Doctors commonly use a mammogram (MMG) to look for early signs of breast cancer. A mammogram is a detailed X-ray of the breast, during which a technologist will place your breast on a plastic plate, with another plate firmly pressing your breast from above. You might feel some pressure or slight discomfort. Performing a mammogram is quick and non-invasive.
Positive findings on a mammogram can be distressing, but it does not necessarily mean that cancer is present. Many find lumps that are non-cancerous, and most positive mammograms require further diagnostic tests to confirm a diagnosis. These can include:
A biopsy is where a sample of cells is taken from your breast and examined under a microscope to see if it’s cancerous. Your doctor would recommend a biopsy should there be any concerns on clinical findings and suspicious findings on your mammogram, ultrasound or MRI. Other diagnostic tests can suggest the presence of cancer, but biopsy is the only sure way for the doctor to know if an area of the body has cancer.
Different methods might be used to obtain tissues depending on what your doctor knows about your conditions.
After a diagnosis, your doctor may develop a treatment plan to remove the cancer, to lower the odds for it to come back and to reduce the chance of the cancerous cell spreading to other organs (i.e. metastasis). Your treatment depends on the size and location, the type of cancer cells and the stage of the disease. Your doctor would consider your age, general health and your opinion to make a joint decision. Available treatment options include:
Visit Icon Cancer treatments page for more detailed information about the range of treatments.
Depending on your cancer, your doctor may recommend other cancer treatments as mentioned to be used as adjuvant after the surgery, in order to lower the risk of recurrence; to reduce the chance of the cancerous cell moving to other organs and hence increasing the chance of cure.
Breast cancer risk is often related to factors that you have no control of, like your age, race and genes, as well as some factors you can change by choosing a healthy lifestyle.
The School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong conducted the Hong Kong Breast Cancer Study and developed an Online Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool that is validated for Hong Kong Chinese female population aged 44-69.
Click here to start the online assessment after reading the preamble and disclaimer.
Age-appropriate screening is crucial to detect breast cancer early. The Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation recommended women aged 40+ to have regular mammography at least once every 2 years.
Mammography screening can be accessed in both public and private hospitals in Hong Kong. There are also dedicated government-authorized non-profit organizations in Hong Kong that provide breast health assessments, such as Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation (HKBCF), Hospital Authority and Family Health Service.
Breast cancer is often the result of a combination of factors, including but not limited to genes and family history.
About 5-10% of breast cancer cases are found to be hereditary, meaning they happen as a direct result of genetic changes (mutation) being passed on from a parent.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common cause of hereditary breast cancer. Women with one of these mutations have a higher chance to develop breast cancer in their lifetime, besides having a higher risk of ovarian and some other cancers.
Breast cancer is curable.
Almost 80% of local breast cancer cases were incidental findings detected by the patients themselves. For stage I breast cancer, treatment can be highly effective and the 5-year survival rate could reach over 90%.
Screening is key to early detection of breast cancer. Take good care of yourself and do a regular self-examination from now on (if you haven’t started doing so)! If you have any further questions around breast cancer or cancer in general, please contact Icon Cancer Centre who will happily answer any questions that you might have.
This article is brought to you in partnership with Icon Cancer Centre. It is informative only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.
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