4 Breast Cancer Risk Factors You Probably Didn't Know
by Natashya Khoo on Nov 08, 2021
We might be done with Pink October but for many, breast cancer is an issue that is lifelong. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer to affect Malaysian women; it’s estimated that 1 in 19 women are at risk. Globally, there were 2.3 million people diagnosed with breast cancer just last year, making it one of the most prevalent cancers.
Make no mistake, though: anyone can get breast cancer- not just women.
We had the opportunity to speak to Dr Dalilah Kamaruddin, the Head of Cancer & Health Screening Clinic at The National Cancer Society of Malaysia (NCSM). Among other things, like how to conduct a self-breast examination, she also talked to us about factors that can increase one’s risk of breast cancer.
1. Hormonal imbalances
Heightened estrogen in the body, along with hormone pills (think birth control) are all factors that can cause an increased risk of breast cancer.
How do you know if your body has more estrogen? “People who start their periods aged 11 and below have higher estrogen levels as estrogen is released in the body at a younger age,” says Dr Dalilah, adding that having a child after 30 and hitting menopause above the age of 55 are also indicators that your body has more estrogen.
With the increasing number of women consuming hormone-related medications, such as birth control pills and acne medications, Dr Dalilah however assures us that by checking off one (or multiple) risk factors may not necessarily indicate that you will have breast cancer.
2. Lack of awareness
Let’s be clear- not getting breast cancer screenings does not mean that you’ll get breast cancer. However, it might mean that you’d only find out when it’s too late. “At stages 0-1, breast cancer has a high recovery rate. But in Malaysia, many only screen when something is wrong. By then the cancer has likely progressed to a later stage, and has gone beyond the breast,” she says.
The 5-year survival rate for breast cancer at stage 1 is at around 90%, meaning that 90% of those with a breast cancer diagnosis will survive five years beyond their diagnosis. The 30-year survival rate is also significantly higher for those who detect breast cancer early.
Dr Dalilah emphasised that knowing your breasts is important because you’ll then be more aware of if there are any changes to them. “Your breasts are at their fullest when you’re menstruating or pregnant. Take the time to notice these changes, and other changes during your self-breast examination,” she says, adding that a lump in your chest should feel as hard as a knuckle.
3. An unhealthy lifestyle
“Breast cancer can be caused by internal and external factors,” says Dr Dalilah. She says a healthy lifestyle is vital in keeping your risk low, especially if you have a family history of cancer. Exercising regularly, keeping a healthy weight, staying away from smoking and regulating alcohol use are basic ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
She also stressed the importance of conducting regular screenings, where women can start having mammograms by the age of 40. Women who are younger should also ask their doctors to conduct a thorough check at their annual check-ups, while those with a family history of breast cancer can start at a younger age.
4. Breast augmentations
While also not a direct risk factor, getting silicone inserts or other procedures to enhance the breasts will make it much more difficult for doctors to conduct a mammogram. “The mammogram is an x-ray of the chest, meaning that if there is an implant in the breast, a doctor would have to use a much more complicated method to screen for breast cancer,” says Dr Dalilah.
However, she adds that women should not fear getting screened for breast cancer. “Many women think that if they have breast cancer, that their breasts will have to be removed. Doctors actually try their best to preserve the breasts, as breasts contain hormones which will throw your body out of balance if they were removed.”
Dr Dalilah also mentions that even if you need a mastectomy, there is always the option for a breast reconstruction where the breast is made to look as similar as it can be to the real thing.
If you find yourself checking off risk factors, don’t book your mammogram just yet- Dr Dalilah emphasises that it does not mean you’ll get breast cancer. She does, however, detail how one can conduct a self-breast examination, which is the best way to check on your body.
Detected a bump, or looking for a check-up? Don’t be afraid to seek professional help! Book an appointment with NCSM for a comprehensive checkup, or even a free examination. Breast cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence, and help is very much available. Take care of yourself (& your breasts), LIVLOLA Fam!