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Cancer. The dreaded one word that could shatter dreams, break hearts and even claim lives. By definition, it is plainly described as an abnormal growth of cells. But what you might not know is that sometimes this also causes old cells to not die and instead, continue to grow uncontrollably, forming a mass of tissue we know as ‘tumour’.
However, tumours alone is not always a tell-tale sign of cancer as some can be benign and the fact is, not all cancers form tumours. Take leukemia, for instance. This kind of cancer occurs when there is a problem with blood-producing cells, especially involving white blood. The cells will therefore split or multiply at random and cause other complications.
According to Cancer Treatment Centers of America, the most common type in women is breast cancer, while in men it is prostate cancer. In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer reported that a similar problem is faced in Cambodia. Last year, breast cancer was reported as the second most common type of cancer affecting women, after cervical cancer, with an average of 1,255 new cases reported annually.
Ladies, before we get into panic mode, remember that knowledge is always the key. By arming ourselves with the know-how, we are more likely to be motivated to improve and maintain our health. We will also work towards minimising habits that can increase our risks of getting chronic diseases such as cancer.
Warning signs of breast cancer
- Changes in the size of breast
Sometimes you might notice a change in the size of your breasts around your menstrual cycle and it is usually accompanied by tenderness. This is perfectly normal and rarely an indicative sign of something malignant. However, you should pay closer attention if there is swelling at times other than during your cycle or if only one breast is swollen.
- Lumps or thickening
A majority of breast cancer patients is discovered after a touch examination, either on their own or at the doctor’s office. If you feel a lump or thickness in your breast, try not to jump straight to a negative conclusion. Other kinds of tumour or cyst can also cause lumpiness and they might be benign. It is vital to perform routine self-assessment so you can be certain if something seems ‘off’.
- Nipple discharge
If you are a breastfeeding mother, a milky discharge from the nipples is nothing unusual. But if you aren’t breastfeeding, yet your nipples produce a clear or a bloody discharge, you should consult a medical professional. This could be a symptom of breast cancer.
- Changes in breast skin or nipples
What do dermatitis and breast cancer have in common? Early symptoms that could include peeling, scaling or flaking on your breast skin. In a more aggressive breast cancer, patients may also develop a skin rash or redness. In other cases, patients also notice a newly inverted nipple. Pay attention to your body and talk to your doctor if things are not as they normally are.
Factors that increase the risks of cancer
- Genetics, family history of breast cancer
- Those who have early menstrual, late menopause or have never been pregnant
- Poor lifestyle habits
- Taking hormones
- Not being active
- Heavy alcohol consumption
How to improve chances through early detection
- Conduct self-breast examinations
First, you need to get familiar with your own breasts. That means being aware of how they look and feel. It is recommended for you to perform a monthly self-exam, particularly days after your menstrual cycle began. There are several ways for you to examine your breasts at home. These include visual inspection in the mirror and hand-scanning around breast and armpit area to look for lumps or knots.
- Consult your doctor if you notice changes in your breasts
Sometimes, we have the tendency to overlook our own physical changes or the areas of which we are supposed to scrutinise during our monthly me-checkups. You might want to get a professional opinion from the doctors who will be on the lookout for lumps or other warning signs.
- Get regular mammogram screenings
The jury is still out on how frequent one should undergo a mammogram. Based on a slew of studies, it is safe to say that women should start getting an evaluation from the age of 40, at the frequency recommended by health professionals. It is basically an X-ray scan of breasts to spot cancer symptoms. It is reported that through mammogram, patients can find out about the cancer three years before the symptoms are physically felt. If other abnormalities or lumps are found, doctors will follow up with ultrasound or biopsy.
There are many treatment options that are available for cancer, thanks to the medical advancements of the modern age. The most common ones are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. As clichéd as it sounds, prevention is better than cure so keep in mind to practice a more active lifestyle and balance it out with a healthy diet — the two important elements to keep any diseases at bay.
Protect yourself and loved ones with AIA សម្រាប់ជីវិត (Samrab Chivit), a life insurance solution which covers 26 conditions of critical illnesses and medical operations both in Cambodia and overseas. For further enquiries, contact AIA Client Care service at 086 999 242.
Sources: WebMD, Mayo Clinic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Cancer Society, Medical News Today, World Health Organisation.