Cancer is caused by the uncontrolled growth of cells, which invade an internal organ and spread throughout the body. Many types of cancer are appearing with increased prevalence these days.
Among women in Cambodia, breast cancer is the second most common type after cervical cancer.
Every year in the country, 1,255 new cases are reported, figures from the International Agency for Research on Cancer show.
According to Dr Hav Monirath, head of pathology at Calmette hospital, women should perform self-examinations by feeling their breasts for any lumps or tenderness. This is best done after menstruation, she said.
“The breast will feel soft after menstruation. However, if you feel pain or something that might be a tumour, it is a possible sign of breast cancer,” Dr Monirath said.
As the condition progresses, other signs can appear such as irritation or dimpling of the breast skin, or abnormal nipple discharge. In the cases of large tumours, red or flaky skin can appear in the nipple area or elsewhere on the breast.
“There is different data on the age at which women develop breast cancer. Globally, the disease is most common among women 40 or older. However, in Cambodian women the disease appears earlier,” Dr Monirath said.
Based on her observations at Calmette hospital, Dr Monirath said many women aged below 40 had come in for treatment. In Cambodia, the number in this age group was higher than what she had observed in Europe. She assumed that there were genetic reasons for this.
Dr Monirath explains her reasoning: “There are two main factors that lead to breast cancer. The first is genetic inheritance; genetic defects are passed from one generation to another, resulting in hereditary cancer. This can lead to the development of breast cancer at a young age. The other scenario is spontaneous development.”
While she had seen breast cancer patients as young as 20 to 25, the most common age was 40 to 50 years old, the doctor added.
The physician went on to list a few other risk factors. “Women with greater exposure to the hormones oestrogen and progesterone are at higher risk, as are women who have children but don’t breast feed,” Dr Monirath said.
She added that obesity and physical inactivity were risk factors for all types of cancer.
Dr Monirath recommended that women take steps to reduce risk factors such as not breastfeed after childbirth; prevent obesity; and physical inactivity.
Importantly, women can protect themselves from cancer by gaining more awareness of the risk factors and methods of prevention, such as vaccination (primary prevention), and screening (early detection, such as mammography and ultrasound scan for breast cancer), she said.
The doctor also recommended that young women perform self-examinations monthly. Women aged 40 and over should have mammography and ultrasound scans once or twice a year, even if they do not experience symptoms, she advised.