Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer for women in 9 out of 10 Asian countries covered in the following infographic published in The Economist earlier this year.
It is no surprise, that breast cancer has become the most common cancer affecting women in Hong Kong.
Breast cancer cases diagnosed in Hong Kong have tripled in the past 20 years to 3,524 cases in 2013. On average, about 9 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every day.
The median age of breast cancer patients was 54 in Hong Kong, compared with the age of 61 in the US, 62 in Australia and 50 in Singapore.
Lifetime breast cancer risk for females is 1 in every 17. In 2013, 57% of the women diagnosed with breast cancer were aged 40-59. The older the age, the greater the risk.
Young people are not immune from the disease. The youngest case reported was below 20 years old.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast. It occurs in both women and men, although breast cancer in men is rare. Currently, it is the most common cancer among women in Hong Kong.

Who is at risk of breast cancer?

Like other cancers, the risk of developing breast cancer depends on a number of risk factors and varies among individuals. In fact, many of the risk factors for breast cancer are linked to lifestyle habits.

1. Lifestyle risk factors include:

Lack of physical activity
Drinking alcohol (please note that alcohol or alcoholic beverages have been confirmed to be a human cancer-causing agent, causing breast and other cancers)
Obesity after menopause

2. Other risk factors include:

Advancing age
Early menarche ( < 12 years of age) or late menopause ( > 55 years of age)
No childbirth, late first live birth (>30 years of age) or no breastfeeding
History of breast cancer, ovarian cancer or endometrial cancer
History of benign breast conditions (e.g. atypical hyperplasia) or lobular carcinoma in situ
Receiving hormonal replacement therapy (HRT)
Using combined oral contraceptives
History of receiving radiation therapy to the chest before age of 30
Carrier of certain gene (e.g. BRCA1 or BRCA2) mutations confirmed by genetic testing
Family history of carrier of certain gene (e.g. BRCA1 or BRCA2) mutations
Family history of breast cancer, especially for first-degree relatives (e.g. mother, sister or daughter) diagnosed with breast cancer before age of 50
If you have any of the above factors, it does not mean that you must have breast cancer – it only means that your risk of developing breast cancer may be higher than average.

How can I prevent or lower the risks of having breast cancer?

You can prevent or lower the risks of having breast cancer by adopting the following healthy lifestyle habits:

Have regular physical activities, do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activities per week (e.g. climbing stairs or brisk walking)
Maintain a healthy body weight and waist circumference – aim for a body mass index (BMI)* between 18.5 and 22.9, and a waist circumference of not more than 80cm (about 32 inches) for women
Avoid drinking alcohol
Have childbirth at an earlier age and breastfeed each child for longer duration
BMI* formula: Weight (kg) / [Height (m)] 2

What are the common symptoms of breast cancer?

The symptoms of breast cancer may not be easily noticed at an early stage. The most common symptom of breast cancer is a breast lump. Any of the following changes in the breast can be a symptom of breast cancer:

A change in the size or shape of the breast
A change in skin texture of the breast or nipple (e.g. red, scaly, thickened or “orange-skin” appearance)
Rash around the nipple
In-drawing of the nipple
Discharge from one or both nipples
New and persistent discomfort or pain in the breast or armpit
A new lump or thickening in the armpit

How can I detect breast cancer early?

The earlier breast cancer is detected, the higher the chance of cure. Therefore, every woman should be breast aware. You should protect your breast the same way as caring your skin by being aware of any abnormal changes.

In order to spot unusual changes early on, you need to be familiar with the normal look, feel and cyclical changes of your breasts.

If you spot any irregular change in your breasts, you should inform your doctor as soon as possible. The doctor will ask you for relevant information and medical history. He/she will perform a physical examination on you and may carry out some other investigations.

What should I consider if I go for a screening test for breast cancer?

The purpose of breast cancer screening is to identify women who have breast cancer before they have any symptoms, in order to offer them earlier treatment.

All screening tests have limitations and are not 100% accurate. There are false positive and false negative results.

Breast cancer screening may find some cancers which will not spread or progress to invasive disease. Treating them may not be better than not treating them. However, doctors usually cannot be sure which one will or will not progress.

When considering breast cancer screening, you should fully understand the potential benefits and risks of having the screening test to make an informed choice.

In case of any doubt, please consult a doctor:

The Challenge & Response to Breast Cancer in Asia
More information:

"Age-standardised incidence rate" is the calculated incidence rate expressed per 100,000.