In Conversation with Prof Mikael Hartman on Breast Cancer
In this article, we speak with Prof Mikael Hartman – a surgeon, a professor and a researcher in the field of breast cancer for more than 17 years. Originally from Stockholm, Sweden, Prof Hartman has been practising in Singapore since 2009 and holds concurrent appointments in the National University Hospital, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, and Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, to name a few.
With an avid passion for motorcycles, Prof Hartman embarked on a 23,000 km road trip across 17 countries from Singapore to Sweden in 2014 with fellow colleague Prof Philip Iau, in an effort to create awareness and inspire mindset change through a deeper understanding of varying cultures, and educating the public and medical institutions on breast cancer and its treatments. The three-month-long expedition resulted in the initiation of the Asian Breast Cancer Research Fund, which supports breast cancer related research across Asia.
Prof Hartman shares with us his personal insights, journey and advice on breast cancer prevention.
What/who inspired your journey in breast cancer treatment, research and awareness?
“I initially planned to become a Trauma & Transplant surgeon but through a PhD programme for clinicians at Karolinska Institute. I was introduced to Professor Per Hall at Karolinska Institute, a medical oncologist. He taught me epidemiology and breast cancer. Since then I plotted both my clinical work and research to breast diseases.”
What are your views on the recent trends of breast cancer in Asia, and in particular, Singapore?
“Breast cancer is doubling by each generation in Asia, due to change in lifestyle, primarily having one or never having children. We are at the brink of a breast cancer epidemic in this part of the world.”
Are there any behavioural or thought patterns you have noticed which should be addressed?
“Primarily family size. Having children ideally more than one and doing so at an early age offers protection from the breast cancer disease.”
How can we better address these patterns observed?
“Tricky question! To create a society where people are happy to form families.”
What is one fact about breast cancer that every woman should be aware of?
“All woman are at risk of developing breast cancer, and should go for regular mammogram screening. Early breast cancer often has no symptoms. However, practicing a monthly breast self-examination would help for early breast cancer detection.”
Are there any activities or diet which will increase one’s risk or affect an individual who is at higher risk of breast cancer?
“Generally, a healthy lifestyle, low alcohol or avoid alcohol completely, no smoking and regular exercise, together with childbearing does offers some protection for women who are at higher risk of breast cancer.”
What is one message or advice we should pass on to our friends and loved ones?
“Encourage your female friends and relatives to practice the monthly breast self-examination and to go for a regular breast screening if they are aged 40 and above.”
Watch Prof Mikael Hartman’s TED Talk, “Breast Cancer: See What You Cannot Feel” here.