One in 20 Malaysian women at risk of breast cancer

Soybeans have been largely studied for their anti-cancer properties since 1991. – Angiola Harry/Unsplash

BREAST cancer is the most common cancer among Malaysian women, accounting for 34.1% of new cases from 2011 to 2016, followed by colorectal cancer at 11.1% and cervical cancer at 6.2%.

One in about 20 Malaysian women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, with 8,418 new cases reported annually and 23 new cases each day.

Sadly, compared to many high-income countries where nine in 10 women survive the disease according to the Malaysian Study on Cancer Survival in 2018, only seven out of 10 Malaysian breast cancer patients survive at least five years.

Breast cancer is still the leading cause of cancer deaths for Malaysian women. It is estimated that over nine individuals die of breast cancer every day, amounting to 3,500 deaths annually.

One major reason is because breast cancer patients in Malaysia are more likely to come forward with late-stage disease that has a lower chance of a cure and another reason is because of limited access to lifesaving therapies.

Screening using mammograms is one of the best methods for detecting breast cancer early to increase survival chances. Breast cancer that’s found early is easier to treat successfully.

Unfortunately, it’s estimated that only one in 10 Malaysians attend regular mammogram screening.

Risk factors

Medically speaking, risk factors refer to genetic, lifestyle, or environmental factors that increase your chances of getting a disease, such as breast cancer.

However, having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean that an individual will develop breast cancer.

There are many unavoidable risk factors associated with breast cancer:

> Being female: Although men can get breast cancer, it’s much more common in women.

> Ageing: Most breast cancers are found in women aged 50 and older.

> Genetics: Inheriting certain gene mutations can increase your risk of cancer.

The most common cause of hereditary breast cancer is an inherited mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene which accounts for up to 5% of breast cancer cases.

Unfortunately, a majority of Malaysian women don’t know whether gene testing is appropriate for them, so Cancer Research Malaysia (CRMY) has developed a web-based tool (called ARiCa or Asian Genetic Risk Calculator) to help women understand their personal likelihood of inheriting a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.

With the results from ARiCa, women can be more confident about whether genetic testing is appropriate for them and their families which can help lay an outline for appropriate treatment for patients and open up the possibilities of cancer prevention among family members.

Additionally, CRMY has led a study involving more than 45,000 Asian women living in over 10 different countries and identified a new way of accurately predicting a woman’s risk of breast cancer using multiple non-BRCA genetic factors and can help target screening and prevention to high risk individuals in the future.

There are also modifiable or preventable risk factors that are either fully or partially within an individual’s control.

Women who haven’t had children or who’ve had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer overall.

There’s also evidence that breastfeeding reduces breast cancer risk. Importantly, the longer a mother breastfeeds, the more protective effect she’ll have against breast cancer.

Moreover, women who are physically active (especially as they go through menopause) and who have a healthy diet have a lower risk of cancers in general. But the effect of diet on breast cancer risk in Asian women is not as well-explored.

Bean-based breakthrough

Homesoy and CRMY are raising awareness and making a difference in breast cancer through a joint initiative.

Through studying Asian populations in Japan, Korea and China, research shows that women who consume high quantities of soya have a lower risk of getting breast cancer compared to women who do not consume soya.

Soya contains three important isoflavones which help regulate high oestrogen levels after menopause. These isoflavones compete with natural oestrogen and limit oestrogen activity to reduce the risk of breast cancer.

But it’s not known how much soya, what type of soya and when must the soya be consumed (e.g. during childhood, adulthood, or after menopause).

CRMY recently completed a study examining whether drinking two glasses of soya milk a day can reduce the risk of cancer in women approaching or undergoing menopause, with focus on how the milieu of female hormones in Asian women can be balanced to reduce their risk of breast cancer.

Cancer prevention studies such as these could be an important step in slowing down the rising incidence of breast cancer in Asian women.

To raise funds for cancer research in Asians, Homesoy will be donating part of the sales of the new Homesoy product to cancer research.

Additionally, to raise public awareness of breast cancer, Homesoy will be giving away a free pack to women who conduct their breast ultrasound or mammogram screening at these participating hospitals in the Klang Valley – Gleneagles Hospital Kuala Lumpur, Subang Jaya Medical Centre, Sunway Medical Centre (Sunway City), Sunway Medical Centre (Velocity), Thomson Hospital Kota Damansara, KPJ Selangor Specialist Hospital – and Columbia Asia Hospitals (peninsular Malaysia only).

This article is brought to you by Homesoy 3.0 Soya Milk.

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