All women are at risk of developing breast cancer. The older we get, the higher the risk.
Women exposed to higher levels of oestrogen are also at higher risk, such as if they start menstruating early (before age 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).
Among Singaporean women, 55 is the peak age to develop the disease. There seems to be a trend of cancer occurring at a younger age. How then, can we detect cancer early?
How breast cancer is detected
Most countries, including Singapore, recommend mammogram screening for breast cancer from age 50. For women who may be at higher risk, this may start at 40, says Dr Tan Yia Swam, who specialises in breast surgery at Thomson Breast Centre,
Some specialists will recommend a supplementary ultrasound as well. A MMG uses X-rays to detect calcium spots in the breasts, which may be a sign of early cancer. However, calcium spots may also be due to many other non-cancerous causes, Dr Tan explains.
Most countries, including Singapore, recommend mammogram screening for breast cancer from age 50. For women who may be at higher risk, this may start at 40.
As ultrasound is the same technology used to monitor a baby during pregnancy, it is safe. It is useful in detecting lumps, and for checking if a lump is solid or “water” (cystic). Dr Tan notes that most specialists do not use ultrasound as a screening method, as most of the lumps detected are not cancerous; while a lump that is cancerous may already be at an advanced stage, as compared to cancer detected by the mammogram method.
Early detection can greatly increase a woman’s chances of recovery, as well as provide more treatment options.
Where to get mammography screening
Subsidised mammography screening is available to Singaporean women or Permanent Residents aged 40 and above who have no known symptoms such as breast lumps or nipple discharge and who have not had a mammogram in the last 12 months.
The screening test is offered under Screen For LIfe, a national screening programme that encourages Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents to get regular health screenings. The programme, launched by the Ministry of Health and the Health Promotion Board, costs $50 for Singapore citizens. Make an appointment at your nearest polyclinic or public/private healthcare institutions. For more information, e-mail SingaporeScreenforlife@hpb.gov.sg.
Most hospitals and some 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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