Breast Cancer Screening
Take home message:
Breast cancer is Singapore’s most common women’s cancer. In many cases, breast cancer need not result in death. The 5-year chance for survival for breast cancer is above 90% when detected and treated early. A screening mammogram is an effective way to detect breast cancer early. Women aged 50 and above should get a mammogram done every two years. Women aged 40 to 49 could screen for breast cancer annually if they have understood the benefits and limitations of screening in this age group.
October always reminds us of a lady by the name of Linda McCartney. She is married to a Beatle, Paul McCartney; and together they have a wonderful family with 4 children. She died in 1998, just 3 years after discovering she had breast cancer. She was only 57!
Early detection can save any of us. Please share with every female you care about.
How common is breast cancer in Singapore?
Breast cancer is Singapore most common women’s cancer. There are over 2,000 newly diagnosed cases each year. In addition, 1 in 14 women will develop breast cancer before the age of 75. Breast cancer accounts for 1 in every three cancers diagnosed in women. More than 400 women die from breast cancer each year.
Am I at risk?
Most women are susceptible to breast cancer, and the risk increases if:
- You are 50 years and older; and/or
- Your mother, sisters or daughters has had breast cancer.
Besides age and family, other risk factors are:
- Early-onset of menstruation.
- Late menopause.
- Having your first child past the age of 30.
- Having few children or never having children.
- Being on hormone replacement therapy.
- Weight gain, especially after menopause.
- Drinking alcohol.
- A history of ovarian cancer.
Why is screening important?
The beginning stages of breast cancer show no signs or symptoms. Therefore, the earlier a cancer is found, the better the treatment options and the greater the chances of survival. However, breast cancer really need not be detrimental. The 5-year chance for surviving breast cancer is above 90% when detected and treated early, compared to around 15% for women diagnosed at the most advanced stage.
Who should go for screening?
1) You do not have any breast symptoms at the moment
(for example, lumps, bleed or discharge from the nipple, pain in the breast etc.) and
2) You are above the age of 50 years or
3) You are between the age of 40-49 and decide to go for your mammogram after you consulted your doctor
If you have a possible genetic risk for breast cancer, e.g. personal history of breast cancer/ovarian cancer, family history of breast cancer/ovarian cancer or known BRCA1/BRCA2 mutation, please consult your doctor first.
How frequently do I do the breast checks?
Once every two years for women aged 50 and above.
Annually for women aged 40 and 49, if you have sought a doctor’s advice on the benefits and limitations of mammography, and is recommended to do the screening.
How should I prepare for a screening mammogram?
1) Before screening:
Your menstruation can increase breast tenderness and tissue sensitivity. To avoid discomfort during the mammogram, arrange for your appointment to fall at least one week after the first day of your menstruation
2) Day of screening:
Wear a two-piece outfit as you will need to undress from the waist up.
Do not use any perfume, deodorant, powder or ointment on your underarms or breasts, as this can affect image clarity.
What happens during my mammogram?
A breast X-ray is done to detect abnormal changes in breast tissue. During the process, a female radiographer positions your breast between two flat plates and compresses it for a few seconds while an X-ray is taken.
The process is performed on one breast at a time.
You may experience some discomfort during the process. Be sure to inform your radiographer if you are in pain.
Try to relax and breathe calmly during the procedure.
What happens if my mammogram results are abnormal?
If the mammogram shows an abnormal breast area, your doctor will order additional tests offering more precise, more detailed images of that area.
Although lumps are usually non-cancerous, the only way to be sure is to perform additional tests, such as an ultrasound or MRI. If further tests show that the mass is solid, your radiologist may recommend a biopsy, a procedure in which cells are removed from a suspicious area to check for the presence of cancer.
How can I be more breast aware?
Monthly self-examination can improve your awareness of your breasts and help to detect breast cancer early before it spreads.
What are the symptoms and signs of breast cancer?
Early breast cancer usually does not have any symptoms, and this is why regular mammograms are essential. However, if you experience any of the symptoms described below, please see your doctor immediately.
(Picture quote from https://www.healthhub.sg/a-z/diseases-and-conditions/20/breastcancer)
What can I do to reduce my risk of developing breast cancer?
Reduce alcohol intake.
Maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in regular physical activity, practicing regular breast
self-examinations and going for regular mammograms can reduce your risk.