SINGAPORE - Last year, the Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF) budgeted more than $300,000 for a scheme to provide free mammograms for lower-income women.
This amount was supposed to last two years but was used up within seven weeks due to overwhelming response - 6,000 women signed up.
The BCF added almost $150,000 more, bringing the total number screened under BCF Encouragement for Active Mammograms (Beam15) to about 8,700.
This year, the BCF is setting aside $2 million for the programme, so that it can reach 40,000 checks over the next five years. This is nearly seven times last year's target of 6,000 checks.
Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor, in announcing this yesterday, said: "In Singapore, women generally fare quite well in terms of health. But despite this, there are areas for improvement, and one of the key areas is in breast cancer screening."
Only about four in 10 Singaporean women aged between 50 and 69 go for regular mammograms, Dr Khor said. The average for countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development is six in 10.
Dr Khor said: "Early detection through screening is important so you can get... appropriate treatment, and that will really improve the long-term outcomes."
For Singaporean women, breast cancer is not only the most common cancer, but also the top cause of cancer death. Each year, about 1,600 are diagnosed with the disease, and about 400 die.
The Health Promotion Board (HPB) has made an effort to raise the breast screening rate. In 2002, it started BreastScreen Singapore, which subsidises half the cost of screening for women aged 50 and above, meaning most pay about $50 each. Beam15 - launched in March last year by the BCF and the HPB - pays the remainder for low-income women. Those aged 50 and above with Community Health Assist Scheme cards are eligible, and will receive a letter inviting them to go for screening.
BCF president Noor Quek said a key obstacle to lower-income women going for breast cancer screening is their financial difficulty. Many, she said, are "totally dependent on their children and husbands for an allowance".
They also fear losing their husbands if abnormalities are found and they require a mastectomy.
Luckily, this was not the case for housewife Jaharah Mohamed, 61, who has had surgery to remove part of one breast. Some abnormalities were found in her breast after she had been screened under Beam15. "I was scared, but my husband hugged me and told me not to worry," she said.
This article was published on April 10 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.