SINGAPORE: Less than 40 per cent of older women in Singapore have gotten themselves screened for breast cancer in the past two years, according to figures released on Tuesday (Sep 27).
Just 38.9 per cent of women aged between 50 and 69 have had their recommended once-in-two-years mammogram during the period, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) said.
This is despite breast cancer being the most common cancer among women in Singapore, and the fact that the risk of developing it increases with age. A total of 9,274 new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed between 2010 and 2014, according to the Singapore Cancer Registry.
A mammogram is currently the most reliable screening tool for breast cancer as it can detect cancerous lumps even before they can be felt by hand.
Women are encouraged to go for screening early as the chances of surviving breast cancer increases with early detection. If the cancer is detected early, this could mean less invasive surgery, one-time radiation therapy or avoiding chemotherapy altogether, said National Cancer Centre Singapore breast surgeon Dr Veronique Tan.
"If the breast cancer is diagnosed as stage zero, they do not need additional systemic, whole body treatment. In some early stage one cancers, depending on the type of tumour, it may be possible to omit chemotherapy and to take hormonal therapy in the form of tablets once a day," said Dr Tan.
Breast cancer survivor Yvonne Tan is glad that she set aside time to get screened for breast cancer. She has a history of "lumpy breasts", a common condition caused by benign cysts, and went for regular mammograms for 10 years, but it was not until July 2015 that she was found to have breast cancer.
"I stood there frozen holding the mammogram results. I was just frightened and devastated. But I told myself I have to find a solution to this. Being frightened is not a solution, (one should be) more proactive in seeking ... treatment," she said.
As the cancer was in the early stages, her doctor was able to treat it effectively through chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Ms Tan is now in remission.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT IN SCREENING MAMMOGRAM RATES: EXPERT
While more women are going for screening, one expert said there is still room for improvement.
Dr Elaine Lim, a senior consultant with the Division of Medical Oncology at the National Cancer Centre, said: "Looking at other socially, economically developed countries, there looks to be a very wide range in the take-up rates for screening mammograms, Singapore is probably placed in the middle of that range. So ... we still do have (some) way to go in order to improve on our screening mammogram rates."
To raise awareness among women, a series of events will be held during October to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The events include seminars, talks and roadshows focused on the early detection and treatment of breast cancer.