It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In part one of our two-part series, so wise up to these facts about the leading cancer among women in Singapore.

Facts about breast cancer

Dr Wong Chiung Ing, an oncologist with Parkway Cancer Centre, sheds light on breast cancer.

• BRCA1 is a human gene that produces tumour suppressor protein, which prevents cells from growing too rapidly or uncontrollably, while repairing damaged DNA. When this gene mutates and cannot make the protein or function properly, such that DNA cannot be repaired, this alters the cells and can lead to cancer. This “faulty” DNA is passed down from parents to their children.

• The average woman has a 10 per cent risk of developing cancer. However, a BRCA1 mutation carrier has a 50 to 60 per cent chance of developing breast cancer and a 40 per cent chance of getting ovarian cancer by age 70.

• Women have a higher chance of developing breast cancer if their oestrogen levels are high — such as if they start menstruating early (before 12), undergo late menopause, or if they are obese and post-menopausal. This group includes women who have not given birth, breastfed, as well as older first-time mums (30 years and above).

• The older a woman gets, the higher her chances of getting breast cancer. Among Singaporean women, 55 is the peak age to develop the disease. However, a woman can be at risk as young as 35 years if she has the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation.

How is breast cancer detected?
For women older than 40, a mammogram is currently the most reliable way to detect breast cancer. It can detect lumps even before they are felt by the hand. Such early detection can greatly increase chances of recovery, as well as provide more treatment options.

Where can I go for mammography screening?
Subsidised mammography screening is available to Singaporean women or Permanent Residents aged 40 and above with no known symptoms such as breast lumps or nipple discharge and who have not had a mammogram in the last 12 months. Offered by BreastScreen Singapore and run by the Health Promotion Board in conjunction with several polyclinics, it costs $50. Make an appointment through Breast Screen Singapore. For more information, e-mail or visit the HPB website.

Most hospitals and several clinics offer mammography screening, costing between $80 and $200. Most of these require a referral by a GP, followed by a call to make an appointment.

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