Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer amongst women in Singapore and around the world. Between 2014 and 2018, there were over 11,000 breast cancer cases diagnosed in Singapore, and it is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women here.
Over the years, a lot of research has gone into understanding breast cancer and its treatment. With advances in screening, diagnosis and treatment, women with breast cancer detected at an early stage go into remission, where the signs and symptoms of cancer are reduced or go away.
This October, the Singapore Cancer Society and the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) by encouraging women to pair up with their mother, sister or friend to get a mammogram screening. NCCS will also be raising funds to support breast cancer patients in need and further breast cancer research efforts.
Buddy up to screen early
Regular screening is the most effective way to detect breast cancer at the earliest stages. The mammogram is currently the most reliable screening tool for breast cancer, which can detect the presence of cancerous lesions before they can be felt with the hand.
Early detection and timely treatment are the best ways to improve survival and avoid more complicated treatments that are needed to treat advanced cancer.
Clinical Associate Professor Veronique Tan, Head and Senior Consultant, Department of Breast Surgery, Division of Surgery and Surgical Oncology, Singapore General Hospital and NCCS, shares more about why pairing up to get mammogram screening makes sense.
"It is all too easy for women to postpone a mammogram if they are doing it alone,” said Dr Tan, who is also the co-chair of BCAM 2021. “When you fix a date to get screened with a close friend or family member, you are more likely to follow through and get that potentially life-saving scan, while catching up with a loved one!"
Dr Tan advises that mammograms are the primary test to screen for breast cancer. A breast ultrasound is best used to further evaluate the breast after the mammogram, if an abnormality is detected. A breast ultrasound should not be used as the primary method to screen for breast cancer as it cannot reliably detect the earliest signs of breast cancer like microcalcifications or tissue distortions.
While mammograms remain the gold standard in detecting cancer it does not mean that all abnormalities in mammogram screening results are cancer.
“Only 1 in 10 abnormalities on mammograms is found to be cancer. Many abnormalities turn out to be benign breast changes. So a detailed evaluation at regular intervals provides peace of mind and lets you get on with the rest of your life," said Dr Tan.
Women are encouraged to do breast self-exam and get mammograms regularly:
• Women aged 30-39 years old, are recommended to perform a breast self-examination once a month, after their menses.
• Women aged 40-49 years old, are recommended to perform a breast self-examination once a month after their menses. Women in this group should also speak to their doctor about the benefits and limitations of mammogram screening at this age.
• Women aged 50-years and above are recommended to undergo mammograms once every two years.
For their “Pink Plank Challenge” message, Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2021 co-chairs and National Cancer Centre Singapore oncologists Clinical Assoc Prof Veronique Tan and Clinical Asst Prof Jack Chan, encouraged women to team up and get screened for breast cancer.
Raising funds for cancer patients and cancer research
Getting treated for breast cancer can be a financial burden on patients and families. The NCCS Cancer Fund launched the Women vs Cancer campaign in 2019, to raise awareness and funds for patient care programmes and research for cancers that affect women, such as breast cancer.
Money raised is used to support patients in need to pay for essential equipment, blood tests, patient transport fees and follow-up mammograms.
In addition to supporting patients in need, Women vs Cancer highlights the need to support breast cancer research. In recent years, lab-based research has been translated to improving outcomes in clinical care with the discovery of new pathways to target treatments. Rigorous cancer research is being conducted in laboratories and new cancer treatments are being tested in 200 ongoing clinical trials at NCCS. All these efforts are aimed at continually improving the treatment outcomes for individuals with cancer.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) takes place every October with nation-wide activities to raise awareness about breast cancer. This year, NCCS and the Singapore Cancer Society are leading BCAM. Themed “Buddy Up to Beat Breast Cancer” and “Double Up For Breast Cancer Screening”, BCAM features activities including a digital "Pink Plank Challenge", online webinars and group exercise sessions. For more information, please visit: www.nccs.com.sg/bcam2021
To support Women vs Cancer, please visit: https://www.giving.sg/nccs-cancer-fund/wvccf
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