Menopause and Breast Cancer

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Kuala Lumpur, Oct 6: Breast cancer continues to be a significant health concern for women worldwide, with particular attention to how it affects women as they enter menopause.
In Malaysia, breast cancer stands as the most prevalent cancer among women, with statistics indicating that one in 19 Malaysian women faces the risk of breast cancer during their lifetime, leading to approximately 3,500 lives lost annually.
Amidst these concerning statistics, there’s a critical need for a comprehensive understanding of the risk factors associated with breast cancer.
To shed light on this vital topic, Dr. Suziah Mokhtar, Consultant Breast, Endocrine, and General Surgeon, and Dr. Hafizah Zaharah Ahmad, Consultant Clinical Oncologist, both affiliated with Sunway Medical Centre Velocity (SMCV), have joined forces to provide insights into the relationship between breast cancer and menopause and how women can navigate this complex health issue.
First and foremost, it’s crucial to clarify that menopause itself does not inherently increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
Instead, the risk of breast cancer rises with age, and different life stages for women bring distinct hormonal changes.
Hormones like estrogen and progesterone have a significant influence on breast tissue, making hormonal balance a key factor in breast cancer risk.
High levels of estrogen, particularly over an extended period, can stimulate the growth of breast cells and increase the risk of mutations that may lead to cancer.
Factors such as early onset of menstruation, late onset of menopause, and hormone replacement therapy can contribute to a higher risk by exposing breast tissue to estrogen for more extended periods.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding, on the other hand, can temporarily reduce a woman’s exposure to estrogen and potentially have a protective effect against breast cancer.
However, the risk may slightly increase after giving birth if the first full-term pregnancy occurs later in life.
Furthermore, the duration of exposure to female hormones, either produced by the body or obtained through medication, plays a role in breast cancer risk.
Prolonged exposure to these hormones increases the likelihood of breast cancer development.
Some women use hormone replacement therapy during perimenopause to alleviate symptoms, but it may slightly increase the risk of breast cancer over time.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is essential for managing various health issues, including cancer. Excess fat in the body can convert substances in the blood into female hormones, which can promote the growth of breast cancer.
Therefore, a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight are crucial for reducing the risk of cancer development.
Despite common misconceptions, menopausal women are not immune to breast cancer.
While breast cancer risk increases with age and is higher for women who have not experienced menopause, it can still occur during and after menopause.
Regular mammograms remain essential for early detection in menopausal women, and early diagnosis can be life-saving.
Menopause itself does not directly increase breast cancer risk, but hormonal changes and prolonged exposure to estrogen can contribute to it.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and staying vigilant through regular screenings are crucial for managing breast cancer risk effectively.
Early detection methods do not differ based on menopausal status, and they play a crucial role in identifying cancer before it becomes palpable.
Breast cancer treatment typically involves a combination of approaches tailored to the specific characteristics of the cancer.
Dr. Suziah and Dr. Hafizah emphasize that while hormonal factors are significant, breast cancer risk is influenced by various factors, including genetics, family history, and environmental factors.
Regular breast cancer screening and consultations with healthcare professionals are essential for assessing and managing individual risk effectively.
By adopting a healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise, and maintaining a stable weight, women can indirectly reduce their risk of breast cancer, especially if they have been treated for early-stage breast cancer.
These lifestyle choices contribute to overall well-being and a lower likelihood of cancer relapse.

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