What is breast cancer?

  • Breast cancer is a cancer that develops in breast cells.

  • Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it is more common in women.

  • The successful treatment of breast cancer has increased in recent times due to factors such as technological advancement, deepening understanding as well as cancer disease that can be detected early.

What are the indications?

Some of the signs that shows you may have breast cancer are:

  • Changes in the skin on the breast (such as uneven skin)

  • Changes in size, shape or appearance of the breasts

  • Lumps or thickening of breast in one area that are different from the surrounding area

  • The skin becomes reddish on your breasts

  • The nipple curved inwards

  • The area of the skin pigments surrounding the nipple (areola) or the skin on your breasts wrinkles and easily peels off

Nipple curves inward and the area surrounding it wrinkles 

Lump appears at the breast area

What are the causes?

Medical experts believe the cause of breast cancer is an intricate combination of the individual's genetic complications and their surroundings such as:

  • Increase in age: The more you age, the higher the probability of getting breast cancer.

  • Personal or family history of breast cancer: Your risk of developing breast cancer increases if you or any of your family members who has blood relations with you had breast cancer in the past.

  • Alcohol: Drinking intoxicants will increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

  • Obesity: Being fat increases the risk of developing breast cancer.

  • Radiation exposure. Your breast cancer risk will increase if you have received radiation treatment on your chest in the past.

  • Never get pregnant before: Women who never get pregnant before have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than other women.

  • Hormone Therapy: Women who take estrogen and progesterone hormone therapy to treat menopausal symptoms have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

How to avoid & control it?

Among the steps that can be taken to prevent breast cancer are:

  • If any of your family members who has blood relations with you has experienced breast cancer in the past, you have to do breast cancer screening with a doctor at:

    • 30 years old: The frequency of subsequent screenings will be based on your first examination result.

  • If none of your family member who has blood relations with you ever experienced breast cancer in the past, you have to do breast cancer screening with a doctor at:

    • Age 40 - 44 years: You have the option to start the yearly screening if you want.

    • Age 45 - 54: You have to do the yearly screening.

    • Age 55 years and above: You should continue to do screenings every 1 to 2 years.

  • Exercise regularly to lose weight and maintain a healthy body.

  • Limiting estrogen and progesterone hormone therapy.

  • Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink (not more than one glass per day, if you choose to drink it).

  • Do breast self-examination regularly to check for signs of cancer.

How it is detected?

If there are signs of breast cancer that have been mentioned, discuss with the doctor about your specific situation. With the doctor's advice, you can decide whether the breast cancer screening is right for you.

Among the most commonly used breast cancer detection methods are:

  • Removing samples of breast cell from suspicious areas for lab test can determine the presence of cancer cells.

  • Breast ultrasound: Using sound waves to generate a structural image of the breast to detect any abnormal condition.

  • Breast examination: The doctor will check both your breasts to detect any lumps or other abnormal conditions.

  • Breast MRI: Using magnetic waves to produce an image of the internal part of your breast for examination purposes.

  • Mamogram: Using X-ray to detect abnormal conditions in the breast.

If your breast cancer is found to have spread to other parts of the body, the doctor may make the following imaging tests throughout or part of your body to identify the location of cancer cells:

  • Bone scan

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

  • Blood test

  • Mamogram

  • Positron emission tomography (PET scan)

  • Computed tomography examination (CT scan)

Removing samples of breast cell for further investigation

Surgery to remove lymph nodes or the whole breast

Among the methods of breast cancer treatment are:

  • Radiation therapy: Using high-powered radiation (such as X-ray, proton) to kill cancer cells.

  • Surgery: To remove either the lumps, the whole breasts or lymph nodes.

  • Use a type of drug to attack certain proteins in cancer cells to prevent it from growing and spreading.

  • Chemotherapy: Using medicines to kill rapidly growing cells including cancer cells.

  • Hormone Therapy: Treatment to control the level of estrogen and progesterone hormone in your body to kill off cancerous cells or block cancer cells from growing.

How it is treated?

Discuss with your doctor what type of treatment is best suited for your specific situation.

When do you need to see a doctor?

  • Make an appointment with your doctor if you recognize signs of breast cancer.

  • Each hospital has different methods for screening breast cancer.

  • Discuss the breast cancer screening with your doctor. Together with a physician, you can decide what is best for you.

Malaysia has been voted numerous times as the best destination to seek quality affordable healthcare. Find a hospital in Malaysia that suits your specific situation here: Hospital Guide

How to get ready with your appointments?

For your preparation, a medical specialist may ask you some questions as follows:

  • Are the signs of your illness occurring continuously or occasionally?

  • How severe are the illness signs on your body?

  • Since when did you begin to experience the signs of the illness?

  • Do you have family members who have had the disease?

  • What triggers the signs of your illness to be more severe? (if any)

  • What do you usually do to relieve any signs of your illness?



What you can do to prepare before the appointment is:

  • List the signs of your illness.

  • Know any restriction that needs to be done before the appointment. Make sure to ask first what to do before appointment (such as limiting your diet, etc.).

  • List all the medicines, vitamins or supplements you consume.

  • If possible, invite family members or friends to be with you. Sometimes we find it difficult to remember all the information during the appointment. Your companion might just help you with this.

  • List your personal information that can help your doctor in investigating your illness (such as major stresses in your life or any changes in your life recently).

  • List all the questions you would like to ask your doctor.

Here are some general questions that you can ask your doctor:

  • What are the possible causes for signs of illness that appear on me?

  • What method of screening should I take? Do I need to make any necessary arrangements before doing the screening?

  • What is the severity of my illness?

  • Should I get a second doctor's opinion of my condition?

  • What are the treatment options that are suitable for my condition?

  • Are there any side effects for each treatment?

  • How does each treatment option affect my daily life?

  • How big is my possibility of getting completely healed from the disease if I undergo the treatment?

  • Do I need to undergo the treatment immediately without delay?

  • How long will the treatment last?

  • How often should I get examined after treatment?

  • What are the complications that I need to face in the future?

  • What other alternatives are available apart from the medicines you prescribed? (if any)

  • Do I need to make any changes to my lifestyle? What nutrition and level of activity are appropriate for my condition?

  • What else can I do to protect my health?

  • I have other health problems. How can I best manage this situation?

If you have any other questions, do not hesitate to ask the doctor during your appointment.

Updated: January 13, 2019


  1. Papadakis, Maxine A., McPhee, Stephen J., Rabow, Michael W. CURRENT Medical Diagnosis and Treatment. 58th ed. McGraw Hill Professional, 2018.

  2. Beirman, Robin., Engel, Roger. An A-Z of Symptoms and Signs. Palgrave Macmillan Australia, 2009.

  3. Porter, Robert S. The Merck Manual of Patient Symptoms: A Concise, Practical Guide to Etiology, Evaluation and Treatment. Wiley, 2008.

  4. Griffith, Henry W. Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness & Surgery. 3rd ed. Body Press/Perigree Books, 1995.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019. Breast Cancer. []. Accessed 07 January 2019.

  6. National Cancer Institute. 2019. Breast Cancer. []. Accessed 09 January 2019.

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