Breast Cancer Warning Signs That All Women Should Be Aware Of

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Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in Malaysia, following colorectal, lung, nasopharyngeal, and liver cancers. According to the Breast Cancer Foundation, one in 19 Malaysian women is at risk of developing breast cancer, compared to one in eight in Europe and the United States.

Global and Local Statistics

  • Global Impact: Breast cancer affects approximately 1 million women worldwide annually and is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women, after lung cancer.
  • Developing Countries: 45% of the afflicted women reside in developing countries.
  • Malaysia: In 2003, 64% of newly diagnosed female breast cancer cases were in women aged 40–60.
    • Ethnic Breakdown:
      • Chinese women: 59.7 per 100,000
      • Indian women: 55.8 per 100,000
      • Malay women: 33.9 per 100,000

How Breast Cancer Develops

Breast cancer starts when milk-producing gland cells (lobules or ducts) grow abnormally and uncontrollably, eventually invading surrounding breast tissue and potentially spreading to lymph nodes, lungs, bones, brain, liver, and other organs.

Risk Factors

While the exact cause of breast cancer is unknown, several factors can significantly increase the risk:

  • Being female
  • Never being pregnant
  • Personal or family history of breast cancer
  • Obesity or overweight
  • Radiation exposure
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Postmenopausal hormone therapy
  • Alcohol consumption

Warning Signs

Early detection is crucial for effective treatment. Approximately 40% of new breast cancer cases in Malaysia are diagnosed at advanced stages. Therefore, awareness of the following warning signs and symptoms is essential:

  • Changes in nipple shape
  • Persistent breast pain after menstruation
  • A new lump that persists after menstruation
  • Clear, red, brown, or yellow discharge from one breast
  • Unexplained breast redness, swelling, skin irritation, itching, or rash
  • Bulge or swelling around the collarbone or under the arm
  • Nipple retraction (inward turning)
  • Enlargement of one breast
  • Dimpling of the breast area
  • An existing lump that grows
  • Skin with an “orange peel” texture
  • Lack of appetite
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit
  • Visible veins on the breast

Self-Examination and Screening

Regular self-examination and screening are vital for early detection. Here's how to perform a breast self-check:

  1. Visual Inspection: Stand upright in front of a mirror with your shoulders and arms by your sides to visually assess your breasts. Raise your arm and continue the inspection.
  2. Physical Examination:
    • Lying Down: Use the opposite hand to feel each breast with the pads of your fingers in a circular motion, covering the entire breast area.
    • Standing or Sitting: Repeat the process, possibly in the shower for ease.

Importance of Mammograms

Mammograms can detect breast cancer early. The National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM) recommends regular mammograms for women over 40, even without symptoms.


Even if you notice symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have breast cancer, but it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional for a thorough examination. Regular self-examinations and mammograms can save lives by ensuring early detection and treatment. Remember, prevention is always better than cure!

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