Dr Benita Tan is a general surgeon specialised in elective breast surgery. She is a senior consultant at the Singapore General Hospital and an adjunct Associate Professor at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School of Singapore. She talked to Star Health about various aspects of breast cancer and surgery during her recent visit to Bangladesh.
Is there any particular type of cancer more prevalent in Bangladesh and Asia?
Contrary to the belief that breast cancer occurs only in older women, we now see a lot of younger women (some as young as in their 30s) being diagnosed with breast cancer in Asian region (including Bangladesh) comparing to the West where majority of the cases occur in their late 60s or 70s.
Is breast cancer increasing more than before?
The incidence of breast cancer is increasing globally including Asia. It has increased three-folds in Singapore in the past couple of decades. Invasive breast cancer is being diagnosed in young women. In the West, the rate of breast cancer is comparatively plateauing down but overall it is increasing. A large portion of the cases are due to environmental exposure. Genetic predisposition accounts to only 5-10% of the total number of breast cancer but rest of the cases do not have any family history. The developing or recently developed countries are seeing a lot of breast cancer cases, particularly in the urban areas. Lifestyle and environmental exposure are believed to be the risk factors involved in most of these cases.
What are the non-malignant cases of breast cancer?
We do treat benign or non-cancerous cases of breast cancer. A lot of patients undergo health checkups with the fear of having breast cancer and get detected with fibroadenoma, cyclical pain and fibrocystic change etc. There is increased awareness about breast cancer but many women are still not aware about it. Whereas the detection of breast cancer has improved, but at least 70% of women from Bangladesh come to us at an advanced stage of cancer.
What should women do?
The treatment of breast cancer largely depends on the particular situation. The treatment modality is individualised and tailored to best suit the patient. A lot of women do not seek treatment since they think a painless lump in the breast cannot be cancer, until the lump becomes huge and progressed to the advanced stage. Women should be advised to seek treatment early rather than waiting until it gets out of control. Women should step forward for problems like presence of lump in the breast which still maybe at an early stage and effective treatment can be started. Screening early for breast cancer can be very effective.
What is the fate of treatment of breast cancer?
Breast cancer has evolved quite a lot over the past decades. It has now become a very treatable condition and the survival rate has increased significantly over the years because of the improvement in the treatment. Newer and advanced medications for chemotherapy are now available and the appropriate use of these medications are giving promising results. With positive mindset, proper education and lifestyle modification, a breast cancer survivor can lead a perfectly normal life for a very long time. It is important to get the treatment early to have the best outcome.