By Ng Wan Ching
IN MARCH, Ms Dina Moyordo Somoza, 28, felt an excruciating pain in her left breast. When she lifted her left arm, she could hardly believe what she was feeling - "a big lump".
Frightened, she told her husband, who told her to go to the hospital as soon as possible. More than a month later, after an ultrasound, a mammogram and a needle biopsy at the KK Women's and Children's Hospital, she received the news: Stage two breast cancer.
She is among an increasing number of women who are catching their breast cancer at an earlier stage. According to Dr Ho Gay Hui, senior consultant at the department of surgical oncology at National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), more women are being treated for early stage breast cancer now compared to 10 years ago.
The majority of cases seen at NCCS - three in four - are now early stage breast cancer. Said Dr Ho: "We consider stage zero, one and two, early stage disease. In the early stages, the cancer is very treatable.
"Ten years ago, the percentage of women with stage zero cancer was about 5 to 6 per cent. Now it's 25 per cent of the patients that we see."
At stage zero, there is a 98 per cent chance of cure.
But the numbers could be even better.
Right now, only 41 per cent of women in the target age group of 40 to 69 go for breast cancer screening.
"We need to get at least 70 per cent of the target group to go for regular screening in order to reduce the death rate," said Dr Ho. Women can go for screenings at selected polyclinics, hospitals and radiology clinics.
While the peak incidence of breast cancer occurs at the 55 to 59 age group, about 40 per cent of cases are diagnosed in women below the age of 50.
According to statistics from the Singapore Cancer Registry Interim Report 2003-2007, breast cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer in Singapore, claiming about 313 lives every year.
About three women are diagnosed with the disease daily in Singapore.
Which is why Ms Somoza is stepping forward to tell her story.