Help At Your Fingertips

Screen for cancer before it's too late

Cancer society’s SG50 Cancer Screening initiative, backed by HPB, offers free screening for some cancers

A radiographer and mammographer prepares a woman for a mammogram.
A radiographer and mammographer prepares a woman for a mammogram.PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Too many patients find out about their cancer late.

One in four breast cancer patients and up to one in two colon cancer patients discover their disease at stage 3 or 4, said Dr Lim Siew Eng, a senior consultant in the department of haematologyoncology at the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore. For some, earlier detection could have saved their lives, she said.

One way to catch cancer early is to go for screening. But not many do.

Take breast cancer, for example. It is currently the most common cancer among women in Singapore, with more than 9,200 women being diagnosed with the disease between 2010 and 2014.

But only about one in three Singaporean women aged 50 to 69 years old has had a mammogram done in the last two years, said a Health Promotion Board (HPB) spokesman.

For women aged 50 or above, screening mammography is recommended once every two years.

There are similar recommendations for colon and cervical cancer screening. Both men and women should start going for colon cancer screening when they reach 50.

Meanwhile, women aged between 25 and 69 who have had sexual intercourse should go for a Pap smear once every three years.

Women can stop taking the test at 69 if their Pap smear taken at that age and those in the past have been clear, said Dr Lim.

These screening tests are available at polyclinics and restructured hospitals under the HPB's Screen for Life programme. This national programme consolidates health screening tests and recommended immunisations across a person's lifespan. One can learn about the immunisations and the screening tests needed according to age group. The information is customised to each person, said an HPB spokesman.

The good news is that if you are aged 50 to 69 and have a valid Health Assist card (blue or orange), you can now go for free colorectal, breast and cervical cancer screening if you are due for them.

This initiative by the Singapore Cancer Society is supported by the HPB to celebrate Singapore's 50th anniversary. Eligible Singaporeans will receive a letter detailing the screening tests they are entitled to.

But people who are at risk of developing a particular type of cancer can start going for screening at an earlier age or undergo such screening tests more frequently. Your doctor is the best person to advise you on the type of screening you need, said the HPB spokesman.

After each screening test, it is important to follow up with the doctor to receive any appropriate management.

To reduce the risk of developing cancer, one should adopt a healthy diet and exercise regularly.

The HPB recommends:

  • Consuming a balanced diet rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grains, and low in fat.
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight with a body mass index of no more than 23
  • Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake.
  • Going for regular health screening to detect cancer so it can be treated or managed well.

If you experience symptoms such as breast lumps, altered bowel habits or abnormal vaginal bleeding, you should see your doctor, said Dr Lim. The sooner, the better.

  • For more details on the Screen for Life programme, go to You can also visit the Healthy Lifestyle Festival SG at the following venues from 10am to 9pm: Oct 17 to 18: Canopy at J-Link (Beside Jurong Regional Library) Oct 24 to 25: Hougang Central Hub (Beside Hougang Mall) Nov 7 to 8: Singapore Sports Hub and Kallang Wave Mall
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2015, with the headline 'Screen for cancer before it's too late'. Subscribe