Affecting 1 in 11 individuals, breast cancer is the leading form of cancer among Singaporean women. While the exact causes of breast cancer may not be fully known, some risk factors have been observed to affect the development of breast cancer.
These risk factors fall into two categories — non-modifiable and modifiable. Non-modifiable risk factors refer to conditions that are out of our control and cannot be altered; while modifiable risk factors can be changed through actions and decisions we make.
To reduce and minimise our risk of breast cancer, we should focus on leading a healthier lifestyle. A first step would be to understand these risk factors and improve our lifestyle habits.
Risk Factors We Cannot Change
Non-modifiable risk factors are generally traits we are born with and cannot be altered. Five such factors have been identified and they are:
The main risk factor of breast cancer is our gender. While males do get breast cancer, the condition is much more common in women than men. This also explains why there is often the misconception that breast cancer only happens to women.
As our birthdays pass us by and we mature, our chance of developing breast cancer increases. In fact, more than half of Singaporean women diagnosed with breast cancer fall between 45 and 64 years old.
However, we should not forget that breast cancer can occur regardless of age. Hence, having regular checkups and routine mammogram scans are still important. Find out where you can get a mammogram scan and the subsidies available here.
3. Breast tissue density
Having dense breast tissue translates to a higher risk of breast cancer too. The density of breast tissue can be affected by other risk factors and life events such as age, use of certain drugs and genetics. Through a mammogram, you would be able to learn more about your breast tissue density.
4. Family history of breast cancer
The risk of breast cancer can be passed down the family line due to the inheritance of certain genes. Having an immediate family member with breast cancer thus increases the risk for others within the family.
For those who have one female relative with breast cancer, the risk is doubled; and for those with two, the risk is five times higher than average. Having a male relative with breast cancer similarly increases one’s risk of getting the condition.
5. Personal history of breast cancer
For breast cancer survivors, the chance of developing cancer in another part of or the other breast is three to four times higher than another who never had the condition previously.
Risk Factors We Can Change
The good news is that there are factors within our control — how we choose to lead our lives also determine how much risk we have for breast cancer.
1. Reduce alcohol consumption
Next time you are contemplating a drink, choose water or a non-alcoholic drink instead.
One risk factor for breast cancer is alcohol consumption. Compared to non-drinkers, women who have one drink a day have a 7-10% higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer; those who drink two to three drinks a day would have as high as a 20% increase in risk. Similarly, men should also avoid heavy drinking as it could lead to liver disease and a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
2. Maintain a healthy weight
A higher amount of estrogen is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in women. Before menopause, estrogen is primarily produced by the ovaries. Upon menopause, the source of production is replaced by fat tissues. Being overweight would naturally raise estrogen levels, thereby increasing the chances of developing breast cancer.
For men, fat cells convert the male hormones (androgen) into estrogen. Hence, obesity in men also translates to an increased risk of breast cancer.
To minimise this risk, we should have a balanced food intake while keeping up with an active lifestyle to maintain a healthy weight range.
3. Exercise regularly
This does not mean jumping to exercises and workouts right away if you have not been active. We can start by ditching the escalator or lift for stairs when commuting or jogging for 30 minutes each day in your neighbourhood park. Remember to exercise within your own limits to avoid injuring yourself.
Prevention is Better than Cure
With advancement in medical research, increased public awareness and education, more women are going for mammograms. It is an encouraging sign that 71% of breast cancer diagnoses are now discovered in the early stages, lowering the mortality rates of this cancer.
Though prevention is better than cure, the benefits of early detection and treatment should not be undermined. Individuals diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer can have a survival rate as high as 91%.
Now that we know more about breast cancer and its risk factors, let’s play our part and do what we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones from breast cancer!
If you need support in caring for a loved one with cancer, we can help.
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