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Empowerment Starts with Breast Health: Celebrating Women’s Day

Did you know? Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Hong Kong, accounting for 28.5% of all newly diagnosed female cancers. Not only does breast cancer impact women’s health, but it also affects their mental, social, and daily lives. Therefore, prevention and early detection of breast cancer are crucial.

According to the Hong Kong Department of Health’s Centre for Health Protection, data from 2021 indicates that the crude incidence rate of breast cancer per 100,000 female population is 138.1, while the age-standardized incidence rate per 100,000 standard population is 79.6 [1]. The number of new breast cancer cases in Hong Kong continues to rise.

(Image is from the Centre for Health Protection in the HKSAR.)

Symptoms of Breast Cancer:

Breast cancer symptoms can vary from person to person, and some individuals may not exhibit any obvious signs. Generally, breast cancer symptoms include:

  • Lumps or hardness in the breast

  • Deformation or indentation of the breast or nipple

  • Nipple discharge or bleeding

  • Changes in breast skin texture (wrinkling, dimpling, or orange-peel appearance)

  • Redness, inflammation, or pain in the breast skin or nipple

  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention promptly for evaluation and diagnosis.

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

Breast cancer risk factors refer to factors that may increase an individual’s likelihood of developing breast cancer. Some risk factors are unmodifiable, such as age, gender, family history, and genetic factors. Others are modifiable, including weight, diet, exercise, smoking, and alcohol consumption.

Based on data from the Centre for Health Protection, here are some breast cancer-related risk factors:

  • Age The older a person is, the higher their risk of breast cancer. The average age of breast cancer diagnosis in Hong Kong women is 56 years.

  • Gender Women are more susceptible to breast cancer than men. Male breast cancer accounts for approximately 0.5% of all breast cancer cases.

  • Family History Having close relatives (such as mothers, sisters, or daughters) with a history of breast cancer increases the risk.

  • Genetic Factors Specific gene mutations (such as BRCA1 or BRCA2) elevate the risk.

  • Menstrual History Early onset of menstruation (before age 12) or late menopause (after age 55) increases the risk.

  • Pregnancy and Breastfeeding History Nulliparity (never having been pregnant), late first pregnancy (after age 30), or lack of breastfeeding raise the risk.

  • Hormone Therapy Use of hormone therapy containing estrogen or progesterone (e.g., menopausal hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills) increases the risk.

  • Weight and Diet Being overweight or obese, as well as an imbalanced diet, contribute to the risk.

  • Physical Activity Lack of exercise raises the risk.

  • Smoking and Alcohol Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption increase the risk.

Are you in high genetic risk?

According to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines for assessing genetic or familial high risk for cancer (latest update from NCCN Guidelines Version 3.2024), individuals with the following conditions should consider genetic testing for hereditary breast cancer (excerpt):

  1. Known family members with pathogenic gene mutations

  2. Meeting subsequent criteria but having negative results in limited testing (e.g., testing only BRCA1/2) Additionally, personal cancer history related to breast cancer includes:

  • Diagnosis before age 45

  • Diagnosis between ages 46 and 50 with one or more close relatives having breast/ovarian/pancreatic cancer

  • Diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer before age 60

  • Three or more close relatives (including oneself) with breast cancer

    1. Epithelial ovarian carcinoma at any age, etc.

    2. Family history of cancer

    3. Any first-degree or second-degree relative meeting the above criteria

    4. Male breast cancer patients

For risk reduction, consider the following preventive measures:

  • Regular breast examinations, including self-exams, clinical checks, and mammography. Follow the Department of Health’s recommendations: annual mammography for women aged 40–49, biennial mammography for women aged 50–69, and individualized recommendations for those over 70[3].

  • Maintain a healthy weight and avoid obesity.

  • Adopt a balanced diet, emphasizing fruits and vegetables while minimizing high-fat and high-calorie foods.

  • Increase physical activity, aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week (e.g., brisk walking, dancing, or swimming).

  • Quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption to no more than one alcoholic drink per day.

  • Avoid or reduce hormone therapy, discussing pros, cons, and alternatives with a doctor.


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