Breast cancer is the commonest cancer in women in Malaysia, affecting about 1 in 19 women.
Although the precise causes of breast cancer are unknown, main risk factors have been well documented. Despite this, most women considered at high risk for breast cancer may not get breast cancer, while many women with no known risk factors can develop breast cancer. Some of these risk factors are modifiable and some are not. For example, significant risk factors such as being female, increasing age and a positive family history of breast cancer are not modifiable. However, risk factors such as physical inactivity, obesity or use of oral contraceptive pills can be altered if not improved.
Breast Cancer Detection
When a woman detects a lump in the breast, a specialist opinion should be sought without delay to exclude a potential cancerous lesion. Not all breast lumps are cancerous. Your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination including mammography and/or ultra sound scan of the breast if necessary. A needle test into the tumour or biopsy will ultimately confirm the diagnosis.
Breast Cancer Treatment
Curative treatment of breast cancer usually involves surgery (which can either be removing the lump or a part of the breast) or mastectomy (removing the whole breast). If possible, the glands in the armpit can be assessed first for presence of cancer (sentinel node biopsy) so further lymph node surgery can be avoided.
Radiotherapy, which uses high doses of localized radiation to the remaining breast must be given after breast conserving surgery. Sometimes it will be administered after mastectomy. Radiotherapy to the breast can be given as an outpatient treatment.
Many women with breast cancer will require chemotherapy even after a curative surgery. Usually more than one chemotherapy drugs will be given by injecting into the bloodstream. There are many drugs used to treat breast cancer and your oncologists may use a different drug based on the specific situation for your cancer. Targeted agents may be used if indicated. For tumours that express hormone receptors (ER and/or PR positive), you may also require hormonal treatment which is given after completion of your chemotherapy.
Treatment decisions regarding breast cancer is complex and is unique to you. Please discuss with your oncologist for further information.