You know the one.
Screening exams for early breast cancer detection, or breast cancer screenings are a series of tests and examinations used to detect a disease like cancer in people who don’t show signs of symptoms. It’s advised for women to go for screenings by medical professionals once every couple of years or more often, depending on your age. The risk of breast cancer increases with age, putting those above 40 years old at a higher risk than younger women. But, this doesn’t mean that women only need to worry about it after they hit a certain age. It can occur at any age – in fact, about 50% of breast cancer patients are under the age of 50. With nearly 40% of new cases identified in the advanced stages of the disease , going in for a breast cancer screening regularly is something all women should do, regardless of age.
Still, many Malaysian women don’t go for a check-up until something feels wrong. Most tend to put off going in for breast cancer screenings.
A study in 2018 found that over the last ten years, less than 30% of Malaysian women went for their yearly screening . That’s a fraction of the population who could have taken advantage of these tests which are designed to act as an early warning system to make women’s lives easier.
Some believe they’re too young to be at risk for breast cancer or that they don’t have any risk factors. Some claim they’re too busy either at work or taking care of their families to spare the time for an appointment that would likely last just a couple of hours.
Others are wary about the screening process itself. From start to finish, getting a breast cancer screening can be a long, arduous and uncomfortable process in a cold examination room.
And some say they would prefer not to know. A very common reason that prevents many women from making an appointment is fear over what the results might say. Cancer is a frightening disease to deal with for anyone and breast cancer is the most common form of cancer faced by women. Unless there’s a problem, many women might put off having a screening because it feels like inviting in trouble when they otherwise feel perfectly fine.
The thing to remember here is that breast cancer is very treatable, especially if diagnosed early. A screening can help to catch any early signs and get you the treatment you need. Going to a breast cancer screening is actually #nothingtofear and will only help make your life easier.
It’s normal to feel nervous about going but the procedure itself isn’t as traumatic or as painful as some might think. Yes, there may be some discomfort if you’re going in for a mammogram, but the pain is temporary and clinics today are designed with the comfort of patients in mind, which means no more cold, sterile examination tables! There are also some services that offer free screenings especially in conjunction with Pink October so if cost is a concern, keep your eyes peeled come October.
It should also be noted that going in for a screening doesn’t mean an automatic positive test result for cancer. The goal of screening exams is to detect cancer cells before symptoms start to show. It’s best to find out early if you’re at risk or are showing signs of something more serious. Early detection helps doctors and women get a step ahead of cancer before it gets too serious. As the saying goes, prevention is always better than a cure.
But if you still feel nervous about going in for a screening, here are some alternatives that might make you feel a little better about going alone:
1. Get into the habit of performing self-checks at home
A breast self-check is safe, easy to learn, only takes a few minutes and best of all, it’s completely free. A self-check helps to familiarise yourself with your breasts and easily spot any changes in your breasts, especially those that persist after your menstrual cycle. Getting into this habit will help make your life easier in the long run.
Women of all ages are recommended to do a self-examination once a month. It should also be noted that breast examination by a medical professional is still very important. About 35% of breast cancers are found on mammography alone and 40% from both physical examination as well as mammography. Keep both bases covered; check yourself at home but also remember to make that appointment with your gynaecologist yearly.
2. Go with a friend
It might help to have a friend go with you during the appointment. And chances are, she may also be due for a screening of her own. Going with a friend can give you the boost of confidence to make that appointment and make it just a little bit easier to take that first step towards ensuring that you (both) stay cancer-free.
3. Keep healthy
There are several effective ways to reduce – but not eliminate – the risk of breast cancer. Women who exercise regularly, don’t smoke and drink less alcohol are at a lower risk of getting breast cancer.
Ultimately, early detection saves lives.
We’ve all seen the statistics. One in 20 women in Malaysia is in danger of developing breast cancer sometime in their lifetime. But we’ve also seen the power that the community provide in bolstering strength, courage, humour and solidarity during times of crisis, and we hope that this October, you’ll be encouraged to take that first step towards protecting yourself and to make that appointment.