A screening saved her life, but she lost her husband

Some feel mammograms are too costly. For others, there can be more shocks in store in case breast cancer is detected.

One woman's husband even threatened to divorce her if she went for a mastectomy.

These are some of the reasons given by low-income women on why they do not want to go for breast cancer screening, said Breast Cancer Foundation president Noor Quek yesterday.

The foundation hopes to change these perceptions by ramping up its Encourage for Active Mammograms (BEAM15) programme, conducted in collaboration with the Health Promotion Board.

The programme screened over 8,000 low-income women last year, of whom about 1,200 found that they had abnormalities in their breasts, while another 53 were diagnosed with breast cancer.

Now, the foundation will pump in another $2 million to reach 40,000 women in the next five years, compared to last year's budget of $300,000.

Women eligible for the programme are those aged 50 and above, with a valid Community Health Assist Scheme card. Invitations to participate will be sent by mail.

In the case of the woman whose husband threatened to leave her if she got a mastectomy, Mrs Quek said: "She decided she valued her life more."

The woman went for the operation and, true to his word, her husband left her. "But, you know what, because of that...she went and did a massage course and went on (to support herself)," said Mrs Quek.

Others were more fortunate.

Madam Jaharah, 61, has depended on the strong support of her family since she underwent a mastectomy, after detecting a cancerous lump through the BEAM15 programme.

"My husband hugged me as I was waiting at the hospital for my appointment and said it was okay," said the housewife.

Now, Madam Jaharah is an advocate of screening. She said: "I encourage all the women around me to go for screening now. If they say they are scared, I'd tell them my story."

Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health, stressed the importance of early detection.

She said that a lower screening rate of 30 per cent has been found among those with primary school education, compared to 50 per cent among women with tertiary education.

"So I think we need to intensify our efforts to raise awareness and encourage others to come forward for regular screenings," said Dr Khor.

Singapore needs to improve its breast screening rate. That figure currently stands at 38 per cent, lower than the average of 60 per cent among Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.

Get MyPaper for more stories.