An Overview Of Breast Health Screening

Breast cancer is a cancer that originates from the cells of the breast and has the capacity to invade surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant organs of the body.

According to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women globally, with an approximate 1.7 million new cases diagnosed in 2012.

In Singapore, based on data from the 2015 Singapore Cancer Registry Annual Registry Report, breast cancer is the No. 1 most frequent cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths in females. However, despite the dismal statistics, the report also reported a major increase in the survival of breast cancer patients, which is attributed to early detection and diagnosis and improvements in treatment regimens. This is largely due to the efforts of the Health Promotion Board (HPB) and their BreastScreen Singapore programme, established in 2002, which helped to raise awareness for the dreaded disease and allowed for readily available and affordable breast screening for women in the country.

The Purpose of Breast Health Screening

Breast health screening refers to tests that will enable a physician to detect cancer cells before a patient presents symptoms.

According to the National Cancer Institute, screening serves two main goals or purposes:

  1. To help detect/find breast cancer at an early stage
  2. To decrease the chance of dying from breast cancer through the initiation of prompt treatment after detection

To put it simply, the best treatment is early detection.

How to Screen for Breast Cancer?

Screening for breast cancer begins with Breast Awareness. The American Cancer Society (ACS) no longer recommends routine monthly breast self-examinations (BSE), even though women may still do so if it has already become a part of their health lifestyle. With Breast Awareness, women are advised to know how their breasts look and feel while taking a shower, bathing or dressing. Research conducted by the ACS shows that women detect changes in their breasts during these activities, making breast awareness more effective for detecting early cancer than monthly BSE. Women who still want to perform BSE are advised to seek instruction from their doctors and other health care providers on how to perform the examination correctly and effectively. The best time to perform BSE is one week after the start of your menstrual period. Women who are no longer menstruating should perform BSE on the first day of every month.

What are the breast changes or abnormalities that you need to watch out for?

  1. Breast mass/lump
  2. Nipple discharge
  3. Skin irritation or dimpling
  4. Nipple pain or retraction (turning inward of the nipple)
  5. Thickening, redness or scaliness in the nipple or breast skin

Any detected changes or abnormalities on the breasts warrant an immediate consultation with the doctor. The doctor will verify these findings by doing a clinical breast examination, mammogram, and/or breast ultrasound. He may also perform a fine needle biopsy by extracting tissue samples from the breast and examining them under a microscope.

Screening Tests for Breast Cancer

At Sincere Healthcare Group, we recommend the following breast cancer screening programme to our patients:

Age < 40 years old

  • Breast awareness and monthly BSE
  • Optional yearly breast ultrasound – Ideal for women with lumpy breasts and wherein BSE or clinical examination is difficult

Age 40-49 years old

  • Breast awareness and monthly BSE
  • Yearly mammogram with or without ultrasound – The most common screening test for breast cancer, mammogram or x-ray of the breast can detect early cancerous changes in the breast before they can be seen or felt on BSE. Additional ultrasound is recommended if the breast tissue is dense on mammogram or if the breasts are lumpy. This is because mammograms have a slightly lower level of accuracy with dense breasts. However, ultrasound as a solo screening test cannot replace the accuracy of a mammogram.

Age 50 years old and above

  • Breast awareness and monthly BSE
  • One to two yearly mammograms with or without ultrasound

Screening can be done every two years in the absence of the following risk factors:

  1. Family history of cancer
  2. Personal history of cancer and/or abnormal breast biopsy
  3. Use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

In the presence of risk factors, screening should be done yearly. Ultrasound may no longer be necessary if the mammogram shows that the breast tissue is no longer dense.

Take charge of your breast health by having your breast awareness screenings at  Sincere Healthcare Group. Our experienced medical professionals and competent staff deliver expert personalised care and treatment with optimal results.

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