Breast cancer is the most common cancer among females in Hong Kong, and is the third-leading cause of death from cancer. It is estimated that one in every 17 women in Hong Kong will develop breast cancer during her lifetime.
It is not clear what causes breast cancer but the risk factors include:
- Beginning menstruation before the age of 11
- Beginning menopause after 54 years of age
- Giving birth for the first time after the age of 40 or having never been pregnant
- Family history of breast cancer
- Obesity or being obese after menopause
- Regular smoking or drinking alcohol, or a lack of exercise
- Unnecessary exposure to radiation or X-rays
- Having never breastfed
- Current use of oral contraceptives or hormone supplements
- Frequent intake of foods high in animal fats
Common Breast Cancer Symptoms
- Breast lumps
- Breast pain
- Changes to or deformity of the skin over the breast
- Nipple retraction
- Nipple discharge
Screening and Diagnosis
In general, women aged 20 or over are recommended to conduct monthly breast self-examinations as well as undergo regular breast examinations (including clinical examinations, mammograms, and/or breast ultrasounds) depending on their age and family history.
If breast cancer is suspected in the preliminary examination, the doctor may recommend a breast biopsy test or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to diagnose the cancer.
Treatment of breast cancer depends on the patient’s condition, which is determined based on the type, size, location, and degree of metastasis of the tumour(s), as well as the age and physical condition of the patient. Surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy may be used alone or in conjunction with each other.
Standard surgery is categorized as either a mastectomy (i.e. removal of the entire breast) or as breast-conserving surgery (i.e. removal of part of the breast tissues). Depending on the condition of the patient, underarm lymph nodes may also need to be removed.
Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells, and may be delivered as external beam radiotherapy or brachytherapy (internal radiotherapy), depending on the patient’s condition. External beam radiotherapy may be performed using new systems such as Tomotherapy, a high-speed helical radiation system that directs radiation energy at the tumour(s), minimizing exposure of energy to normal cells and reducing the development of possible side effects.
Chemotherapy and other drug therapies
Chemotherapy is treatment with drugs to destroy cancer cells in an effort to shrink the tumours or control their growth. The drugs may be administered either orally or intravenously.
Hormone therapy is the use of anti-estrogen drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells.