Early breast cancer screening can save lives

PHOTO: Early breast cancer screening can save lives

Prevention is better than cure is an often-heard phrase in our everyday lives. Did you know regular breast screening in women could reduce the risk of death by up to 50 per cent*? Here are 7 tidbits on early screening via mammograms and how it can save your life:

1. What is breast screening and what is its aim?

Breast screening involves a clinical breast examination performed by the doctor followed by a mammogram. It aims to detect breast cancer early so that with effective treatment, women can live longer.

2. What are the advantages of early detection?

When a breast cancer is detected and treated at an early stage there are several advantages:

- Women live longer (most importantly).

- These tumours are often small (less than 1 cm in diameter) and are suitable for less damaging surgery e.g. lumpectomy as compared to mastectomy.

- There is also a higher chance of avoiding chemotherapy after surgery.

- If no cancer is detected by breast screening, a woman can feel more reassured.

3. Is a mammogram painful?

It may be uncomfortable and painful as a certain amount of compression of the breast is required to obtain a clear image on the mammogram.

4. Is breast screening effective in all women?

Studies have shown that it is most effective in women aged 40 to 70 years old*.

5. What happens if a woman's mammogram is abnormal?

An abnormal mammogram does not mean that the woman has breast cancer as a large proportion of the abnormalities found through mammograms are not due to cancer. If such a circumstance occurs, the woman will be recalled by the doctor for further tests such as magnification views of the mammograms and ultrasound scans. Only in a small proportion of women, an abnormality suspicious of cancer is confirmed by these further tests. These women are offered a surgical biopsy to rule out a cancer.

We hope this was useful to your understanding of early screening using mammograms. As always, despite some pain and discomfort that a mammogram might cause, it has been proven effective and reliable in the early detection of breast cancer - spread the word to all your lady loves and enable them to take ownership of their breast health today!

Breast screening is available as part of a general health check found in most government outpatient clinics and the Singapore Cancer Society. Facilities for mammogram and X-rays are available in most hospitals and newly opened hospitals such as Farrer Park Hospital.

*According to studies in US and Europe of women aged 40 years and above:

1. Duffy SW, Tabar L, Olsen AH, et al. Absolute numbers of lives saved and overdiagnosis in breast cancer screening, from a randomized trial and from the Breast Screening Programme in England. J Med Screen. 2010;17(1):25-30.

2. Smith RA, Cokkinides V, Brooks D, Saslow D, Shah M, Brawley OW. Cancer screening in the United States, 2011: A review of current American Cancer Society guidelines and issues in cancer screening. CA Cancer J Clin. Jan-Feb 2011;61(1):8-30.