Breast Cancer Screening: What Should You Know About It?
As one of the most common cancers to affect women in the world and Singapore, the risk of having breast cancer is something that all women should take seriously. In fact, 1 in 16 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and nearly 2000 cases are detected every year in the country. While breast cancer can affect men, the proportion is much lower as compared to women. Consequently, many doctors highly recommend all women to go for regular breast cancer screenings as the treatments work best in the early stages.
The risk of having breast cancer is mainly dependent on 3 factors: age, family history, and lifestyle. If you find that you are at risk due to any of these factors, you should schedule a breast cancer screening test immediately.
This is the biggest reason that most women contract breast cancer. As age goes up, the risk of breast cancer is higher as well. This is because our bodies become less capable of repairing genetic damage as we grow older, thus making us more susceptible to diseases like cancer. In Singapore, women between the ages of 40 and 69 make up the biggest portion of those diagnosed with breast cancer. If you are a woman aged between 40 and 49, you are advised to go for a screening every year. Women aged between 50 and 59 are advised to go for breast cancer screening every 2 years.
2. Family history
Women with close relatives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer have a higher risk of developing the disease than those who do not. This is because the mutated genes – BRCA1 and BRCA2 – that are responsible for causing breast cancer are also passed down through generations. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you will need to go for more cancer screenings than the average woman. Do remember to check with your doctor about this.
While lifestyle does not play as big a role as age and family history, it may still affect the chances of getting breast cancer. This applies to most cancers as well. Research has shown that women with BMI (Body Mass Index) over 25, sedentary lifestyles, and who consume high levels of alcohol, are more likely to be at risk of breast cancer. Beyond just going for breast cancer screenings, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important too. This can be done by exercising more, consuming less alcohol, having a nutritious diet, and maintaining optimal body weight.
Going for Breast Cancer Screening
The most common form of breast cancer screening in Singapore is a mammogram, which is an x-ray of the breast. Many experts agree that a mammogram is the most effective screening tool for early detection of breast cancer in most women today. This is because early breast cancer usually does not display any symptoms and a mammogram can detect the cancer even before it is seen or felt. Doctors may follow up with either an ultrasound scan or an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) if the mammogram shows any abnormalities. Nevertheless, a mammogram is always done first whenever you go for a breast cancer screening test.
How is a Mammogram done?
Mammography uses low doses of X-rays to diagnose cancer in the breast. During the process, each breast is compressed between two plates of the X-ray machine for a few minutes at a time. This is to ensure that the machine can get a clear image of the breast tissue. Some women may find the examination uncomfortable due to compression but the discomfort will pass quickly. The actual mammogram is usually less than 30 minutes and patients will be able to resume normal activities right after the procedure. Following that, the results will be given to you in a few weeks.
Protecting Yourself from Breast Cancer
As going for breast cancer screenings are usually not recommended for women below 40 (unless they have a family history of it), they can continue reducing their risks by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and conducting monthly breast self-examinations. These examinations help to check for any lumps, pain, or sudden/gradual changes in breast size which are usually an indication of breast cancer. Women above 40 are also encouraged to do these monthly examinations in between their screenings. Some other symptoms include:
- A persistent itch or rash around the nipple
- Bleeding or unusual discharge from the nipple
- Swollen or thickened skin around the breast
- A nipple that is pulled in or retracted
If you happen to have any of the above symptoms, be sure to schedule an appointment with a cancer management centre.
While these methods may not prevent breast cancer outright, they can help diagnose cancer in the early stages so that the treatments will have a higher success rate.
Take no chances, be sure. If you are thinking of undergoing a breast cancer screening test, schedule an appointment with us today.