Few aware of breast cancer risks: Survey

Breast cancer survivor Branda Lai, 30, and her husband, Mr Zairil Azwar, 25, at last year's Pink Ribbon Walk.
Breast cancer survivor Branda Lai, 30, and her husband, Mr Zairil Azwar, 25, at last year's Pink Ribbon Walk.PHOTO: BRANDA LAI

Many do not see need for screening, 1 in 4 has not done any checks despite it being top cancer among women

It was only six months after her boyfriend discovered a lump in her right breast three years ago that Ms Branda Lai, 30, performed a self-examination.

The legal recruitment consultant did not know who to turn to.

"I was very ignorant. I knew what breast cancer is but I didn't know what to watch out for," said Ms Lai, who was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer.

Between 2011 and 2015, breast cancer was the top killer of women cancer sufferers in Singapore. But many women do not understand the risks and the need for screening, according to a recent survey.

The Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF) found that more than half of the 1,005 women aged 15 and above, who were surveyed, have limited knowledge of breast cancer. Three in five (60 per cent) of these women are below 45.

The nationwide survey was conducted from May to July, with 1,985 participants, including 980 men.

  • >50%

    More than half of the 1,005 women, aged 15 and above, who were surveyed, have limited knowledge about breast cancer. Three in five of these women are below 45.

    45%

    Percentage of women who perform breast self-examinations, as well as go for medical checks.

BCF said this is the first survey that focuses on "the psychosocial needs of women (and those of their caregivers), as well as the public's knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of breast cancer".

While nine out of 10 of the respondents think that regular breast checks are important, only 45 per cent of the women surveyed said they did breast self-examinations, as well as went for medical checks.

A glaring 27 per cent had never done any checks - on their own or at the doctor's.

"There's not much of a stigma of talking about it (breast cancer) now, but they don't know enough to be convinced that they need to do screening regularly," said BCF president Noor Quek.

Breast cancer accounts for one in three cancers in women, according to the latest cancer registry report released in May. Of the 9,634 women diagnosed with breast cancer from 2011 to 2015, about 71 per cent were diagnosed in the early stages, which gives them a higher chance of survival.

The risk of the cancer increases with age. It is recommended that women aged 40 to 49 go for a mammogram once a year, while those aged 50 and above should go for it once every two years.

However, younger women such as Ms Lai, who is now in remission, can also be at risk and are advised to do a breast self-examination once a month.

The incidence of breast cancer here has more than doubled, from 25 to 65 per 100,000 women over the past 40 years. But the cancer registry report noted that there was a significant increase in survival rates from 2006-2010 to 2011-2015, "likely due to improvements in treatment regimens".

The survey findings will be used to review the BCF's current outreach and support efforts, said Mrs Quek. She added that companies can also encourage female employees to go for checks as part of annual health screenings.

Ms Lai, who is now married to her boyfriend, said: "I wish women would care about their inner well-being as much as they do about their appearance and not think, 'It's not going to happen to me'."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2017, with the headline 'Few aware of breast cancer risks: Survey'. Print Edition | Subscribe