Frequently Asked Questions About Breast Cancer
In Malaysia, 1 in 19 Malaysian women are expected to develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and 5,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.
It is also estimated that over half of the deaths due to breast cancer in Malaysia could have been prevented. You can try to minimise your chances of developing breast cancer, or you can also choose to protect yourself with breast cancer insurance coverage.
Whatever your choice is, it all starts with education, so read on and find out all about breast cancer and how critical illness or medical coverage can protect you.
- How Can Insurance Protect Me Against Breast Cancer?
- Learn about Breast Cancer Basics
- Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
What Types of Insurance Offer Coverage for Breast Cancer?
There are two main types of insurance to help pay for breast cancer treatments. A medical plan provides coverage for specified treatments of breast cancer which typically include chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. This type of plan is different from a critical illness plan which pays out a lump sum in the unfortunate event that you develop breast cancer.
A critical illness plan also covers other types of cancers as well as illnesses such as stroke or kidney failure. It’s different from a medical plan in that it can be used for anything at all – it isn’t just tied to medical costs.
This is because if one is diagnosed with breast cancer, a hospital bill is not the only cost that is incurred. You can use this lump sum payout to cover the gap between what your health policy covers and what it does not.
Are There Insurance Plans That Cover The Early Stages Of Breast Cancer?
Yes, there is. Special medical plans that are directed at covering costs related to female cancers can cover treatments for early stages of breast cancer. A basic medical plan however, may only cover treatments for stage 3 cancer and beyond.
In addition, a critical illness plan for early detection can help you with a lump sum payment that can be used to cover your alternative treatments (ones that are not covered by your medical plan).
The lump sum pay-out may not be a full 100%, as each stage is usually prescribed a percentage. For instance, stage 1 may receive only 30% of the sum assured whereas stage 4 gets 100% of the payout benefit. Plans do vary, so do check with your provider first.
When Should I Get Critical Illness or Medical Insurance Coverage For Breast Cancer?
As soon as you can afford it! The truth is nobody knows when this cruel illness might strike. Attempting to pay for the treatment on your own is difficult, if not impossible. It is very, very expensive; the average cost for private treatment is RM65,000 per year. Also, the older you get, a higher premium may be applied.
Treatment at government hospitals is cheaper but there are many limitations (due to governmental budget issues) that could put your health at greater risk.
For instance, you could be put on long waiting lists for treatment, delayed in getting the tests or therapies you need, and sometimes even miss out on new medications.
A combination of medical insurance and a critical illness cover can help take care of the financial side of things while you focus on getting better. There are several plans that you can choose from, to work with your budget and give you some assurance.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer - like other types of cancer - starts when there is an overgrowth of cells that form a tumour which can be both benign and malignant. Most benign tumours are non-cancerous.
Malignant tumours on the other hand are cancerous and can spread to other parts of the body if treatment isn’t received.
Breast cancer originates from cells in the breast, most often from the ducts that carry milk. It may also start from glands in the breast and less commonly from tissue.
It’s assumed that only women get breast cancer but in truth, men can get it too, although the statistics are lower.
What Causes Breast Cancer?
Some women and girls (and men) are more likely than others to contract breast cancer because of certain risk factors.
While we don’t have an exact cause for breast cancer can just yet, scientists have identified the risks that make one more prone to the disease. Here’s a list of known factors from the Centre for Disease Control:
- Family history of breast cancer
- Simply getting older
- Late menopause after the age of 55
- Early menstrual cycle before the age of 12
- Drinking alcohol
- Lack of physical activity
- Getting pregnant late in life or not at all
- Being overweight or obese after you have menopaused
- Taking birth control pills
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Dense breasts with more connective tissue
- Having had radiation therapy on areas close to the chest area
Now, it doesn’t mean that you will get breast cancer if these risks are present. It just means that you may be more prone to it and therefore it’s a good idea to regularly check for lumps, get screened, and go for timely medical check-ups.
What are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?
Of course, it’s downright scary if one day you suddenly notice a lump in your breasts, but the fact is, lumps aren’t always cancerous. In fact, most lumps turn out to be non-cancerous. But just to be on the safe side, it’s best to get it checked out by a healthcare professional.
Here is a list of common breast cancer symptoms from the Mayo Clinic:
- A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue
- Change in the size, shape or appearance of a breast
- Changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling or puckering (creasing or small dents on your skin)
- A newly inverted nipple (where the nipple is pulled inward instead of pointing outward)
- Peeling, scaling or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple (areola) or breast skin
- Redness or pitting of the skin over your breast, like the skin of an orange
Bear in mind that these symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have cancer. Any one of them can be caused by a variety of innocent ailments such as a simple skin infection, which is why it’s important for you to seek a medical professional’s help to determine your health status.
Is There an Age Limit to Developing Breast Cancer?
No, unfortunately. Breast cancer strikes at any age. You’re never too young or too old to get breast cancer and that is a sad fact.
What you can do is give yourself the best chances for a cure if you do develop the illness by seeking early treatment.
Is Breast Cancer Hereditary?
Most breast cancers are NOT hereditary. Still, you might face a higher risk if you have a family history of breast or other type of cancers.
How is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?
If you find that you have any of these symptoms, don’t panic. Set an appointment with your doctor and get yourself checked.
The first test that a doctor will perform is a breast exam where he or she will feel for lumps or abnormalities in the breasts and armpit area.
If your doctor does feel something irregular, other tests may be recommended to determine your condition for sure.
What are the Tests to Diagnose Breast Cancer?
Here are some of the common tests run by health practitioners to detect and diagnose breast cancer:
This test is used to screen for breast cancer and will give an x-ray of the breast so your doctor can look for masses. If your doctor does come across an abnormality during the screening, he or she will likely order further testing.
Mammograms are usually performed on women aged 40 and above for early detection. Younger women may also be asked to perform a mammogram if they are deemed to be at risk of breast cancer (i.e. having family history or dense breasts).
This is another screening test that is used with a mammogram for women with higher risks, for instance; if they have been diagnosed before. It uses magnetic fields and radio waves to take pictures of the structure of the breast.
This test doesn’t produce radiation but it is considered invasive as you will need to be injected with a dye through a catheter.
This test helps determine if a lump is merely a cyst or a hard mass. A cyst is nothing to worry about, it’s not cancer. However, a hard mass is something that requires doctors to run further testing, like a biopsy (explained below), to determine if it is cancerous.
This test involves removing a small part of the lump, usually tissue and fluid (if present) to test it for cancerous cells. This test is the only one that can confirm or rule out breast cancer.
How Far and Fast Can Breast Cancer Spread?
Breast cancer can spread rapidly and is hard to put a time frame on. The speed in which it spreads really depends on the individual, the aggressiveness of the cancer cells, the type of cancer cells, as well as how early or late the cancer was detected - among others.
The cancerous cells can spread to other parts of the body when it is aggressive and this happens at stages three and four. It can spread anywhere, but most commonly to your lymph nodes, liver, lungs and bones, right up to your brain.
What Are the Treatment Options Available For Breast Cancer?
Treatment depends on a number of factors such as how early breast cancer was detected, if it has spread (the stage) and the age of patient, among others. According to the Malaysian Oncological Society, these are some of the treatment options available in the country:
Surgery is one option where a part of the affected breast or even the whole breast (also known as a mastectomy), is surgically removed. Brave Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy as she was deemed a high risk.
Another treatment option is Radiotherapy which may be used after surgery or chemotherapy to kill remaining cancer cells. This type of therapy uses radiation to attack the cancer cells.
Chemotherapy is a treatment for breast cancer that is given to those diagnosed, in the form of injections or via medication. It’s a popular treatment that is often associated with most, if not every type of cancer.
Depending on the cancer stage and condition, doctors might advise a combination of these treatments. The goal of these treatments is to provide breast cancer patients with the best possible chance for a cure, or failing that, to control the cancerous cells from spreading to the other parts of the body.
Check out some of the Critical Illness plans offered on RinngitPlus to help make your decision on the cover you want