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Understanding Breast Cancer

Understanding Breast Cancer | Live Great | Great Eastern Life

Causes and Risk Factors

All women are at risk of getting breast cancer but there are a few risk factors that make it more likely, specifically, gender, age and genetic factors.

For example, women are more likely to develop breast cancer than men. Age is another risk factor as the chances of developing the disease increases the older you get.

Genetic factors are another consideration. A family history of breast or ovarian cancer puts a woman at a greater risk while the same applies if a woman started menstruating early or if she enters menopause late.

Other risk factors include:

  • Having a first child after the age of 30
  • Women who have never had children
  • Women on hormone replacement therapy
  • Weight gain after menopause
  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle

The Importance of Early Detection

It’s important to note that the absence of any risk factors does not safeguard a woman from breast cancer. Regular screening and self breast-examination are important and recommended for the early detection of breast cancer — as the initial stages of the disease may not have any symptoms. It is recommended to have regular mammograms coupled with monthly breast self-examination.

Mammograms are X-rays of the breast that detect small lumps. The average size of lumps detected via a routine mammogram is one centimetre. In comparison, the average size of a lump found by regularly practicing breast self examination is two centimetres. Mammograms are able to find smaller lumps than self-examination alone. The smaller the tumour, the better the chances of a cure. In addition, tumours that are detected very early might only require radiation and minor surgery as treatment.

Doctors recommend that women aged over 40 should get a mammogram every year while those aged above 50 should go for a screening every two years.

If your mammogram results are abnormal and you are asked to go for further tests, don’t panic. Nine out of every 10 women who need further tests will have normal results. Having to go for additional tests does not mean you have cancer. Your doctor will recommend suitable tests for you such as: a repeat mammogram where different views of the breasts are taken or an ultrasound where sound waves are used to examine the breast tissue.

Treatment of Breast Cancer

If breast cancer is confirmed after further tests, treatment options will depend on the following:

  • The stage of the cancer
  • Types of cancer cells
  • The age and general health of the individual

The options for breast cancer treatment include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy.

What You Can Do To Stay Healthy

Although better surgery and improved drugs have enhanced survival rates for breast cancer, there are a few lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce your chances of getting the disease: stop smoking, drink less alcohol, maintain a healthy weight through physical activity, eat less red meat and other animal fats as well as processed food, avoid hormone replacement therapy if possible and have children early.

Ensure You Are Adequately Covered

It goes without saying that the fight against cancer can be a lengthy process and one that is physically and emotionally draining. Yet, beyond the mind and body, the battle against cancer is also a costly affair. Hospitalisation and surgical costs can wipe out savings. In addition, many patients tend to overlook other costs involved such as regular diagnostic tests, counselling and rehabilitation. As the treatment process can be lengthy, expenses tend to snowball over time. It is important for patients and their families to plan and manage finances and resources so that treatment is sustainable.

Do ensure you have adequate insurance that not only covers surgery and hospitalisation costs but also critical care treatment (this covers diagnostics, treatment and other aspects that a hospitalisation policy does not) and loss of income. There are also early stage critical illness plans offering financial support from the early stages of cancer. Remember that it is important to buy insurance at a young age, when you are still healthy — as individuals with existing health conditions are excluded from coverage.

Planning your finances and insurance is important and best started early so that your focus can be on recovery rather than worrying about the large bills that usually follow serious illness. It will also spare your loved ones the emotional strain.

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