Are we at risk of developing breast cancer?


Did you know that women in Malaysia has approximately 1 in 20 chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime? Compare that to the odds of getting struck by lightning (1 in 960,000) or the odds of winning 4D jackpot (1 in 10000), the odds of developing breast cancer are scary.

Even though Breast Cancer Awareness Month has ended, we believe that you (especially all the ladies out there) should be well-aware of some of these facts about breast cancer no matter what month it is. With over 50% of the breast cancer cases in Malaysia are women under the age of 50 years old,  let’s all learn a little more about the things you might not know about breast cancer.

Early detection of breast cancer is crucial, especially when it is linked to a better survival rate. Detection of breast cancer can be done in several ways, and it is recommended for women of all ages to do self-examination on a monthly basis. With two fingers, feel around the entire breast from the outside to the centre in a circular pattern to check for any lump. You should also visually inspect the breasts for any changes on the skin and the nipples. If there are any lumps or changes to the skin and nipples, you should get a clinical examination by healthcare professionals. Mammograms, on the other hand, is recommended for women aged 45 and above. For women with average risk of breast cancer, it is recommended that women aged 45-54 to have mammogram done every year, and every two years for women aged 54 and above.

Now, do you know what’s your risk of developing breast cancer? Let’s discover several factors that could contribute to your risk of developing breast cancer.

Here are some of the risk factors that you can’t control:

  1. Age. As you grow older, your risk of developing cancer increases.
  2. Family history. If you have a mother, sister or daughter who have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past, your risk of developing breast cancer is doubled.
  3. Menstrual history. Women who started menstruating early (before 12 years old) or go through menopause after 55 years old, have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
  4. Even though you can’t control the risk factors stated above, there are other risk factors that you have a control over and can take action towards reducing your risk of developing breast cancer. These risk factors evolve around your lifestyle, which gives you the power to control and take action over these risk factors.

Being overweight or obese will increase your risk of developing breast cancer. Many studies have found that obese women who have gone through menopause have a 20-40% increase risk of developing breast cancer as compared to those with normal weight (normal body mass index). When you are overweight or obese, your body might produce extra estrogen due to the extra fat cells (adipose cells which produces estrogen) within your body. Over time, when your breast cells are exposed to extra estrogen, your risk of developing breast cancer is higher.

In order to maintain a healthy weight, regular exercise and having a healthy diet is very important. Understand your body and lifestyle first, for example determine what’s your current height, weight, body mass index, body type, activity levels and eating habits. It might also be useful for you to determine your body’s predisposition beforehand. While you set your action plan for a healthier lifestyle, be it increasing your activity levels by going to the gym, going for a jog before work or establishing a healthy diet plan for yourself, it’s important to bear in mind to start slow so that the transition is easier for you to handle.

Research have found that smoking is associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer in younger women who have not gone through menopause. Since smoking causes a number of diseases as well, it would be a good idea to consider stopping if you smoke. Even though smoking is a hard habit to break, there are many options out there that could help you in your journey to stop smoking, for example pharmacies in Malaysia generally offer smoking cessation programs.

On another hand, researches have also found that women who have 3 alcoholic drinks in a week have a 15% increased risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who do not drink alcohol on a daily basis. Alcohol can increase your levels of estrogen, as well as other hormones that are associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. If you are motivated to do everything you can to lower your risk of developing breast cancer, you may want to consider limiting the amount of alcohol you drink to two or lesser alcoholic drinks per week.

While the thought of developing breast cancer can be scary, bear in mind that you still have an influence over your personal risk of developing breast cancer by living a healthier lifestyle. It’s also very crucial for women of all ages to be aware of the correct ways to do monthly self-examination, so that early detection and treatment is possible.

If you have not done any form of health check ups before in the past, we would sincerely encourage you to book a health check up session at your nearest medical centre. Get started now, so that you are aware of your current health condition and can take the appropriate actions as early as possible. Your body and your health are the most priceless possession.

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