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Breast cancer is a disease caused by the uncontrolled division of cells in the breast, usually from the cells in the milk ducts and glands. The chances of recovery are higher when breast cancer is detected in early stages and prompt treatment is given.
However, these cancerous cells are able to invade the surrounding tissues, gaining entry to the circulatory and lymphatic systems. The organs affected are usually the lungs, bones, and liver. Hence, it is pertinent to receive treatment as soon as possible.
In Singapore, breast cancer ranks top as the most common cancer for women. Every year, more than two thousand women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Statistics from Gleneagles show that one in sixteen women in Singapore will have breast cancer in their lifetime. While the exact cause of breast cancer is not known, some risk factors including age, lifestyle, and family history, may increase the chances of having the disease.
Breast Cancer Awareness month
The Breast Cancer Awareness Month runs for the entire month of October every year. The annual campaign aims to increase awareness of the disease and raise funds for research for its cause. The campaign also shows support and shares information for patients affected by breast cancer.
The theme “Shared Courage – Stronger Together, We Overcome” for this year rallies support for women afflicted with breast cancer and stands in solidarity for those who have passed on from the disease. The pink ribbon pins are encouraged to be worn to create a greater awareness of the disease and to encourage early detection via screening among women.
Psychological and physical impact
The psychological impact of having breast cancer is more than often devastating. When one is first diagnosed with the disease, the helplessness and distress felt is almost palpable when they do not know where to find assistance.
Some women may become disheartened by having breast cancer that they may completely give up on receiving surgery or having treatment appointments. Notably, this state of depression can decrease the survival rate due to their resistance for recovery.
For women who have undergone cancer treatment, they may find themselves feeling excessive anxiety from the changes in their body. The physical, psychological, and lifestyle changes from the effect of breast cancer and the medical treatments can be both distressing and traumatic.
The body-altering changes from cancer treatments can include scarring from the surgery, the removal of the affected breast, and hair loss. The adaptation of these body changes can be overwhelming with some women reporting a loss of identity.
Prosthesis and wigs are commonly used as a support to improve body image and confidence level while ensuring the lifestyle of cancer patients can continue as per normal. For KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), the hospital has provided complimentary hand-knitted breast prosthesis, a comfortable alternative to commercial manufacture, to more than 60 patients who have a mastectomy. The hand-knitted breast prosthesis are intended to be natural and well-fitted without requiring a customised bra, for patients to continue their lifestyle post-treatment and during treatments.
Cancer treatment innovation
A new DNA technology is developed to detect breast cancer relapse. Researchers in Singapore, having collaborated with researchers from Denmark and the USA, have successfully identified a unique biomarker in breast cancer patients and have developed a simple blood test to check for relapse. This blood test is able to detect relapse early and test treatment efficacy. It can be used to monitor tumour growth after treatment so that other forms of therapy can be administered early and accordingly. As tumour relapse is the main reason for the high mortality rate of breast cancer, it is pertinent to monitor patients for prevention.
Care and support
Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF) has several programmes to support breast cancer patients, sharing essential medical and health information. The BCF Education and Empowerment Programme is a six-day workshop series that provides lifestyle related topics for newly diagnosed patients. For example, patients are informed on exercise and diet management while on cancer treatment as well as mindfulness practice and beauty classes.
BCF’s positive appearance scheme also allows low-income patients a chance to receive breast prosthesis and prosthesis bra. BCF members may also apply for a wig loan for a period of six months.
For family and friends of a breast cancer patient, it is important to show your support and care. Keep in touch and listen attentively to their needs, show practical support and assist with physical chores when they require help. Last but not least, raise awareness of breast cancer as early detection of the disease corroborates to a higher survival rate. Cancer may be a solitary journey but one does not have to walk alone.