Breast Cancer: 8 Questions with Dr See Hui Ti

Contributed by: Dr See Hui Ti

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and the second most common cancer among all cancers. As the incidence of breast cancer have increased, raising awareness on breast cancer risks, diagnosis and management remain as important as ever. Here, Dr See Hui Ti answers some common questions about the disease.

Is it true that the older individuals get, the more likely they are to develop breast cancer?

It is true that the older we get, the higher our risk of developing breast cancer. However, it does not mean that young people are not diagnosed with the disease. In fact, recent reports have shown that there is a higher incidence of breast cancer among young people from as young as their 20s.

That said, individuals should generally take good care of themselves to reduce their risk of getting breast cancer and other critical illnesses.

If a mother has/had breast cancer, how likely is it for her daughter to develop breast cancer in the future?

If a woman has a strong family history of breast cancer—that is, her mother, aunt or sister has/had the disease—she is 6–8 times more likely to develop breast cancer in her lifetime compared to the general population.

This may be due to a family history of inherited genetic mutations that may lead to hereditary disease. However, it is worth noting that the inherited BRCA genetic mutation closely associated with breast cancer is relatively rare.

Fortunately, although a woman may have a high risk of developing breast cancer, advances in medicine and medical technology have led to higher cure rates for the disease, especially when the disease is detected early.

If a woman is diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, does she still need treatment?

We know that cancer can be staged into Stages 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4. At Stage 0, cancer cells are in the mammary gland and cannot spread. This is known as carcinoma in situ. At Stages 1 and 2, the cancer is deemed to be at the early stage. At Stage 3, there is involvement of the lymph glands, while at Stage 4, the cancer has metastasised, or spread to other organs.

That said, some patients with breast cancer can still be cured at Stage 4 if the extent of the metastases is small. Unfortunately, if the cancer has metastasised to critical organs such as the liver or lungs, the probability of cure is relatively low at less than 10%. In such cases, treatment is administered with palliative intent to relieve symptoms and prolong life.

What is the typical treatment approach for breast cancer?

The treatment approach to breast cancer depends on many tumour- and patient-related factors. Breast cancers can be removed surgically followed by chemotherapy and oral medicine to reduce the probability of recurrence. In other instances, chemotherapy with or without targeted therapy can be administered first to shrink the tumour, followed by surgery.

After treatment, the cancer is restaged to determine the disease’s response to treatment.

Do patients need to go for follow ups even after the complete removal of the cancer?

Patients are advised to return to the hospital at regular intervals after treatment for physical reexamination and ultrasound scans to monitor for signs of recurrence or metastasis.

How useful is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is typically administered for the purpose of prevention or treatment. Preventative chemotherapy involves administering chemotherapy to prevent tumours from settling in the blood, while chemotherapy treatment involves shrinking an existing tumor.

To prevent cancer, should special attention be paid to diet?

Obesity is a risk factor in many cancers and critical illnesses. Hence controlling your weight and keeping to a normal BMI can help prevent the onset of disease. For patients undergoing cancer treatment, obesity can cause adverse side effects or weaken the effect of chemotherapy. It is thus important to keep to a healthy diet and do regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight.

Is it true that foods with preservatives such as canned foods cause breast cancer?

Preservatives and artificial ingredients are linked not only to breast cancer, but other cancers such as colorectal, lung and gastric cancers as well. The Cancer Research Center in the United States has a published record of all the carcinogens, artificial ingredients and preservatives that can cause cancer.

POSTED IN Cancer Prevention, Cancer Treatments
TAGS breast cancer, chemotherapy, colorectal cancer, common cancer, history of cancer, metastatic cancer, obesity and cancer, stage 4 cancer, targeted therapy, tumours