As the leading type of cancer among women in Singapore, breast cancer should be a subject every woman in reproductive and menopause age should talk about. In most cases, early diagnosis is only possible through routine screening because cancer is usually asymptomatic at the earliest stage.
If you are going to your breast screening for the first, there are important things to keep in mind.
Doctors still recommend that you perform a breast examination once a month or a week after your period (if you are still menstruating). While it may be impossible to detect small tumors with the hands alone, it can still be helpful for detecting other conditions besides breast cancer. If you find a lump in your breast or you see some changes in the appearance of your breasts, you should schedule a checkup as soon as possible.
Mammogram is the term for the breast X-ray procedure don’t to detect lumps that are too small for physical exams. Even if you do not detect any changes, you should still schedule a screening mammogram annually when you are 40 years or older. Diagnostic mammograms are scheduled if you detected a lump during an examination or you notice a discharge or changes in the skin of the breast.
A mammogram should be scheduled after your period when there are fewer lumps, but it is not done during pregnancy. You will be asked to take off your top and to not wear perfume, deodorant or powder. The procedure is safe because it uses low-dose X-ray.
Ultrasound of the Breast
For women younger than 40 years or are pregnant or cannot undergo an MRI, an ultrasound or sonography is preferred. This is also the best screening method for women who have dense breast tissue or have a lot of glands, ducts, and fibrous tissue but less fat. It is a painless and safe procedure which uses sound waves to create an image.
You will be asked to remove your top and a gel is applied on the skin before a transducer or probe is used. Images can be seen real-time and will allow the doctor to study structures and movements not possible with mammogram alone.
MRI of the Breast
Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI is recommended as a supplement breast screening procedure in some cases because mammography alone cannot detect lesions and abnormalities. The procedure uses radio waves and magnetic field to create pictures and is recommended for women who are at high risk of developing breast cancer.
It is also the best method for those who have had breast implants. Before the examination, you will be asked to limit your food and water intake (but this depends on some hospitals), wear loose clothing, and to remove jewelry and accessories. Some people may be given a sedative if they feel uncomfortable being placed in a small space.
Note that the above procedures are only for the initial screening and monitoring. If there are problems detected, confirmation tests are necessary.