Breast Cancer Is the Most Common Cancer Among Women Worldwide

The incidence of breast cancer has been on the rise for the past 20 to 30 years. Multiple factors contribute to increasing cases. Among the factors are sedentary lifestyles, obesity, women with smaller families, less breastfeeding, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) consumption, smoking, alcohol consumption and so on.

What causes breast cancer?

There is no definitive cause of breast cancer. However, lifestyle, genetics, and environment play an important role. Breast cancer is related to excess oestrogen/progesterone. If a woman is exposed to long term oestrogen and progesterone excess, the risk of breast cancer increases.

Other lifestyle factors include smoking, regular alcohol consumption, and obesity. Genetic factors in breast cancer contribute to less than 10% of all breast cancer incidents.

For example, BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that produce tumor suppressor proteins that play a role in repairing DNA damage. If these genes are mutated, they may not function properly, leading to alterations that can lead to cancer.

Other genetic factors that may affect breast cancer include breast density. The higher the breast density, the more risk to develop breast cancer.

Screening for breast cancer

Women with higher risk factors should be screened more vigilantly. Higher risk women include women with a strong family history of breast/ovarian cancer, any family members with breast cancer at a young age, male family members with breast cancer and those women on hormone replacement therapy.

For women with no risk factors, screening of breast cancer should start at 40-50 years old.

There are various screening and diagnostic tests for detecting breast cancers such as mammogram and breast ultrasound and etc. 3D Mammography service with the latest technology is available at Sunway Medical Centre.

Types of breast cancer

There are different types of breast cancer. The most common is infiltrating ductal carcinoma (about 80% of invasive breast cancer are of this type) followed by lobular carcinoma. Other types may arise in cells that make up the breast glands, fat, or connective tissue. However, it is also important to know the biomolecular characteristics of breast cancer. These markers are used to tailor specific treatment to each individual patient.

Treatment options

Surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapy are the mainstays of breast cancer treatment. The treatment depends on the stage and biomolecular characteristic of cancer. In general, stage 1 patients have a 5-year survival rate of about 95% but for stage 4, this goes down to about 25%.

Family and community support are very important when a woman undergoes treatment. The patient needs to be highly motivated for treatment.

In summary, it is thus important to go for regular and early screening for breast cancer. Early detection of any breast cancer will have longer survival rate as compared to later stages.

Written by:

Dr. Normayah Kitan
Consultant Breast & Endocrine Surgeon
Sunway Medical Centre