More women here found with breast cancer every year

More women here are being diagnosed with breast cancer each year, but doctors say the number of women going for screening tests has not gone up, even though early detection matters.

Only about one in three of the target group of women aged 50 to 69 had a mammogram done in the past two years, according to the Health Promotion Board (HPB).

"What we are finding is that screening rates have kind of plateaued," said Dr Chan Ching Wan, who is chairman of the Breast Cancer Awareness Month's organising committee.

Dr Chan, a consultant at the National University Cancer Institute Singapore's (NCIS) surgical oncology division, noted that the number of women getting breast cancer has tripled in the past 40 years.

Between 1974 and 1978, slightly more than 20 in 100,000 women here were diagnosed with breast cancer; the figure was more than 60 between 2009 and 2013.

"That is a huge jump in the space of just four decades," she said.

Stressing the importance of screening, she said: "If you find (cancer) early, it is easier to treat... you survive longer, there's less chance of it coming back, and you return to normal life faster as well."

This month, NCIS and HPB will join hands with the Breast Cancer Foundation, National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), and Singapore Cancer Society in the annual push to raise awareness about the disease.

Their efforts include subsidies for mammograms, roadshows, talks, and workshops for cancer survivors.

For example, special Pink Cards will be distributed at 128 Guardian and Unity Pharmacy outlets starting today.

Women aged 50 and above can use these to get $25 off their mammograms at selected screening centres.

For eligible Singaporeans who have not gone for a mammogram in the past two years, subsidised mammograms usually cost $50.

Both NCCS and NCIS will hold workshops to help breast cancer patients cope with changes in their appearance by, for example, using scarves to hide hair loss.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Singapore, and the most common cause of cancer death.

Between 2010 and last year, more than 9,200 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.

The risk of getting breast cancer increases with age, which is why all women aged 50 and above are encouraged to go for screening tests.

Breast cancer survivor Joan Ng, 51, a sales representative, was diagnosed with the disease six years ago.

A lump in her breast turned out to be Stage 3 cancer. "I was totally, completely lost. I am a very active person - I swim, I dive, I dance and I do trekking," she recalled.

During chemotherapy, her hair started falling out in clumps, and her nails turned black. It was only after attending a workshop on how to hide the effects of her treatment that she regained self-confidence.

Encouraging women to do regular self-checks for lumps in their breasts, she said: "In the event that you discover anything, do not fear. Just go for a check-up. Always remember if we diagnose and discover (cancer) earlier... there is life."

This article was first published on October 1, 2015.
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