Know Your Body

written by Dr Harjit Kaur on 30 July 2008

There are more younger breast cancer patients these days.

“We are seeing younger patients in their 30s and early 40s getting breast cancer and not only those in their 50s and 60s. It is alarming as we have yet to determine the exact reason this is happening,” says Consultant Breast and Endocrine Surgeon, Dr Harjit Kaur Perdamen.
She believes that the phenomenon is happening worldwide, especially in Asian countries, although there are no definitive studies to confirm it yet.
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among Malaysian women. A woman in Malaysia has a one in 19 chance of getting breast cancer in her lifetime.
The National Cancer Registry Cancer Incidence in Malaysia 2003 shows that 31% of newly diagnosed cancer cases in females are breast cancer, the highest followed by cervix uteri, colon and ovary cancer.
“Girls as young as 16 and 17 years old should start doing self-breast examination (BSE) and be breast aware,” she says.
Being breast aware means knowing the condition of your breast well so that you are able to detect abnormalities early. BSE should be done 7 to 10 days after the start of your period. It is a simple method of breast examination that you can do yourself at home.
By feeling your breasts with your fingers you will recognise what is normal to you. Check for lumps, changes in the nipple and any abnormal fluid from the nipple.
The cause for breast cancer in young women is probably multifactorial and can attributed to diet high of processed food and environment factors such as radiation.
There are two important things you need to know about breast lumps. First, not all breast lumps are cancerous. Second, if you have found a lump in your breast, it is not going to disappear. Ignorance in this case is not bliss.
The best way to find out is to see your doctor, as 85 to 90% of breast lumps are not cancerous, such as fibroadenoma, breast cyst, fibrocystic disease and other benign tumours.
Your doctor may send you for an ultrasound or biopsy to determine what the lump is. Depending on the outcome of the biopsy and size of the lump you may be advised a surgical removal of the lump.
“Surgery is now more refined and less devastating. The scars are much smaller and cosmetically acceptable and there are many options available. Overall treatment has improved and supportive medicine is better. You’ll find that there are more survivors and they are living productive lives and going back to normal lives. But you need to come early so we can do the best for you,” says Dr Harjit
In breast cancer, mastectomy (removal of the entire breast) is done when conservation of the breast is not possible as the tumour may be very large compared to the breast or there is more than one cancer in the breast. For a young woman who is still living an active lifestyle, building a career and family, the thought of losing a breast can be daunting.
“Every woman who needs to undergo a mastectomy must be offered breast reconstruction as long as she is a suitable candidate,” says Dr Harjit.