Did you know that 51.5 percent of cancer cases reported in Singapore occur in women? And between 2014 and 2018, 12,706 women in Singapore died from cancer? These statistics are from the Singapore Cancer Registry Annual Report (2018).
Records show a worrying trend. Over the past 50 years, the number of cancer cases among Chinese and Malay women in Singapore has risen sharply. In Chinese women, the incidence rate increased from 158.5 to 235.0 per 100,000 population. For Malay women, that number more than doubled from 98.5 to 222.7. The cancer rate among Indian women remained relatively stable, from 181.9 to 186.4.
The three most common types of cancer in women in Singapore are:
1. Breast (29.3 percent)
2. Colorectal (13.3 percent)
3. Lung (7.5 percent)
Other cancers that make up the top 10 cancers in women in Singapore are: uterine (7.2 percent), ovarian (4.9 percent), lymphoid neoplasms (such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma) (4.7 percent), non- melanoma skin (4.1 percent). percent), thyroid (3.9 percent), stomach (3 percent), and cervix (2.8 percent).
In men in Singapore, the most common types of cancer are:
1. Colorectal (16.9 percent)
2. Prostate (14.8 percent)
3. Lung (14 percent)
With World Cancer Day observed on February 4th each year, this is a timely reminder for us to keep a close eye on cancer risk factors and ways to prevent them.
What are the risk factors?
Clinical Assistant Professor Tanujaa D/O Rajasekaran, Consultant, Division of Medical Oncology, National Cancer Center Singapore, explains that it is usually not possible to know exactly why one person develops cancer and another does not. However, research has shown that certain risk factors can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer.
She lists some of these risk factors for the three most common types of cancer in women in Singapore:
How to reduce your risk of cancer, according to a document Breast Cancer Risk Factors
- Family history of breast cancer
- Genetic changes in certain genes such as breast cancer genes 1 and 2 (BRCA1 and BRCA2)
- Early onset of menstruation (before 12 years)
- Delayed development of menopause (after age 55), with or without use of postmenopausal hormone therapy to delay menopause
- Have a personal history of breast cancer or non-cancerous breast disease
Risk factors for lung cancer
- Smoking is the strongest risk factor for lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer increases with the number of cigarettes smoked per day and the number of years of smoking. However, quitting smoking can reduce the risk of lung cancer, regardless of how many years a person has smoked. The risk of cancer decreases after quitting smoking
- Exposure to secondhand smoke, radiation and asbestos are other risk factors for lung cancer
Risk factors for colorectal cancer
- Colorectal cancer can occur at any age, but most commonly occurs after the age of 50
- Personal history of previous colorectal polyps
- A diet high in red meat and processed meat
- Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- Family history (eg, a parent, child, brother, or sister) of colon cancer
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What can you do to lower your risk?
Cancer patterns in women in Singapore follow the global trend. “Cancer incidence rates in Singapore continue to rise as the population ages and the country develops,” explains Prof. Tanujaa. “The increase in cancer is most notable for colon, breast and prostate cancer, mirroring the most common types of cancer in other industrialized countries.”
That doesn’t mean that we should sit back and watch how the trends continue. Even though some cases of cancer are unexplained and no one knows how the patient got the cancer, there are some things medical professionals advise women to do to reduce our risk of cancer.
Prof. Tanujaa shares the best lifestyle practices to adopt:
1. Exercise regularly. Physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Exercise also appears to reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer and possibly gynecologic cancer.
2. Avoid tobacco in all its forms, including secondhand smoke.
3. Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Reduce consumption of saturated fat and red meat, which can increase the risk of colon cancer. Increase your consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If you decide to drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
“Women should also be aware of the nationally recommended screening tests that are available to them, including mammography (for breast cancer), colonoscopy or stool occult blood testing (for colon cancer), and pap smear test (for cervical cancer),” adds she added.
“People are advised to discuss the pros and cons of screening with their doctor before deciding on the type of test/screening.”
Common myths about cancer
In the age of fake news, it is all the more important to ensure that the knowledge we have about diseases comes from experts. Here are some common misconceptions about cancer:
Myth #1: Only smokers get lung cancer
About 10 to 15 percent of all lung cancers occur in people who have never smoked.
Myth #2: Cancer is a death sentence
A lot has changed in the field of cancer therapy. Since the 1990s, the odds of dying from cancer have steadily decreased.
“About a third of all cancers can be cured if they are detected and treated early,” says Prof. Tanujaa.
“Today, about nine out of 10 people with certain early-stage cancers – such as breast, prostate and thyroid cancer – survive at least five years after their cancer was diagnosed. The availability of new cancer treatments also means more people with advanced cancer can live longer with better quality of life,” she adds.
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Myth #3: Cancer treatment will do you more harm than good
Types of cancer treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy. While such treatments can be physically and mentally taxing, they aim to improve symptoms, prolong life, and even cure cancer.
Prof. Tanujaa explains that some side effects are to be expected, but these can usually be managed. Anyone with concerns about their cancer treatment should speak to their doctor before refusing treatment entirely, as it can be a matter of life and death.
Myth #4: People with cancer shouldn’t eat sugar as it can cause cancer to grow faster
More research is needed to understand the relationship between dietary sugar and cancer. While all types of cells in our body—including cancer cells—rely on blood sugar (glucose) for energy, giving cancer cells more sugar doesn’t make them grow faster. Which also means that sugar deprivation doesn’t slow cancer cells down.
“However, a high-sugar diet can lead to obesity and increase the risk of diabetes. People who are overweight or have diabetes have a higher risk of developing certain types of cancer,” says Prof Tanujaa.
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This article first appeared in your world online.