1 July 2019
Breast cancer remains the most common type of cancer among women in Singapore, accounting for at least 1 in every 4 reported cancer cases. The condition arises from abnormal growth of mutated cells in your breast tissues.
The risk of developing breast cancer becomes higher as you age, and early diagnosis is critical in improving your chances of survival. When diagnosed in its early stages, breast cancer becomes easier to treat since more viable treatment options are available.
The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the better your chances of going through treatment successfully. This is the primary reason why regular screening is recommended. You also need to be familiar with how your breasts look and feel like and report any sudden changes to your doctor.
Tests and procedures used to diagnose breast cancer include the following.
A clinical exam will be conducted if a lump, nipple discharge, or unusual breast changes are detected. During the clinical exam, your doctor will carefully check both of your breasts and lymph nodes in your armpits to establish whether there are any abnormalities.
Abnormal changes include a sudden change in the size and shape of your breast, retraction of your nipple when it previously pointed outward, or discolouration of the skin around your breast not related to infection or other skin conditions such as eczema.
In simpler terms, a mammogram is a digital X-ray image of your breast. This is the most commonly used way of screening for breast cancer. Once the X-ray image is taken, your doctor will study it to establish if there is any abnormality with the internal appearance of your breast.
If an abnormality is recorded, your physician may recommend a diagnostic mammogram to evaluate that abnormality further. A diagnostic mammogram is a more detailed X-ray image of your breast. One of the top reasons why mammograms are popular is that they can detect breast lumps up to two years before you can start to feel them.
3D tomosynthesis is a relatively new type of improved digital mammogram that allows your doctor to capture multiple images of your breasts instead of just one picture. This advanced technology is extremely helpful since it allows your doctor to see finer details and make a sound judgment about your condition.
An MRI machine makes use of radio and magnetic waves to create detailed images of the internal appearance of your breast. Before an MRI is conducted, you may receive a dye injection to enhance and improve the clarity of the images of your internal body organs. Unlike other imaging techniques, an MRI does not use radiation for imaging.
If your doctor suspects breast cancer, he/she will recommend a breast biopsy to confirm the suspicion. This is the only definitive way to make a breast cancer diagnosis. The process involves the removal of breast tissue for examination under the microscope.
During a biopsy, your doctor will use a specialized needle device that is guided by X-ray or any other imaging test to extract a sample tissue from the suspected area. The biopsy sample is sent to the laboratory where experts examine the cells to establish whether they are cancerous or not.
If breast cancer is diagnosed, further tests such as bone scan, computerized tomography scan (CT scan), and blood tests are done to establish the extent (stage) of your breast cancer. The staging of your cancer will help in determining the best treatment options that may increase your survival chances.
Treatment method and your chances for successful recovery depend on whether the cancer is localised in your breast tissue or has already spread to other body parts.
Other factors such as your age, menopausal status, specific characteristics of your cancer cells, and your general health will also determine the treatment options available for you. Breast cancer treatment broadly consists of locoregional and systemic treatment methods.
This breast cancer treatment method makes use of both surgery and radiotherapy to treat cancer cells in your breast and lymph nodes. It compromises of the following treatment methods:
These breast cancer treatment options utilise chemotherapy or hormonal drugs to manage clumps of breast cancer cells that may be circulating in your body. Systemic breast cancer treatment methods include:
Being diagnosed with breast cancer can be daunting and overwhelming. However, you need to keep in mind that breast cancer is manageable.
Once you are diagnosed with this condition, the best thing to do is to manage your fear and believe that you will go through treatment successfully. Some of your options include: