How can I tell if I have breast cancer?
A. The most common symptom found by women is a lump in the breast, armpit or chest area. Most lumps are not cancerous, but you can’t tell whether a lump could be cancer just from the way it feels. Consult your doctor immediately to have it checked. Regular screening is crucial for detecting breast cancer early as, in some cases, there can be no symptoms.
How can I be screened?
A. Your doctor will recommend a suitable screening method for you. The most common screening methods are mammography and ultrasound. A mammogram is a breast x-ray designed to detect breast abnormalities. The other option is an ultrasound screening which can assess the general condition of the breast and determine whether a lump is a cyst or a sold mass that could be cancerous.
Can I check myself and how often?
A. Women of all ages should be familiar with the normal look and feel of their breasts. Early detection of breast cancer improves the chance of diagnosing breast cancer early, which means a better chance of survival. Women over the age of 20 are advised to check their breasts monthly by self-examination. Before reaching the menopause, all women should check their breasts from the 7th–10th day after their period starts, while post-menopausal women should carry out self-examinations on the same day of each month.
Why is early detection important for breast cancer?
A. Early detection can save lives. The earlier the cancer is detected, the more treatment options you will have available and the greater your chance is of a full recovery.
If my grandmother or mother had breast cancer, will I get it too?
A. Having a family history of breast cancer is only one risk factor for the disease, and having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean that you will definitely develop the disease, or that you have inherited a genetic risk of breast cancer. Only 5% to 10% of all breast cancer cases are caused by an inherited genetic mutation. However, even if you don’t have a family history of breast cancer, this doesn’t mean that you won’t develop the disease.
If I have a high-fat diet, am I more likely to develop breast cancer?
A. Although there is no evidence to show that a high-fat diet increases the risk of developing breast cancer, one should avoid a high-fat diet and eat healthily. Being overweight postmenopause increases a woman’s risk of having breast cancer and many other diseases.
What are my chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer?
A. In Hong Kong, it’s estimated that one in 15 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. The good news is that on the flip side, 14 out of 15 people will never get breast cancer, however the number of cases is on the rise. In the last decade, the total number of breast cancer cases rose dramatically; up by about 80% (4,108 cases were diagnosed in 2016 and only 2,273 in 2004*). So, early detection is crucial as early stage breast cancer can be treated more successfully with more treatment options.
*Hong Kong Cancer Registry, Hospital Authority 2018 (figures from 2016)
There is a lump in my breast, is it cancerous?
A. Not all breast lumps are cancerous. In general, most breast lumps are caused by benign (non-cancerous) changes in the breast. This percentage tends to fluctuate with age. For younger women, most breast lumps are benign. As a woman gets older, her risk of breast cancer increases. The percentage of benign breast lumps in older women may be much lower than in younger women. It is still important for women of all ages to be alert to signs of breast cancer, and report any breast abnormalities to their doctor.