Mammogram Myths – Find out what’s true and what’s not about breast screening

One in 15 women will develop breast cancer by the age of 75. Catching breast cancer in its early stages (stages 0 to 2) makes all the difference to your treatment plan and outcome. Unfortunately, people have all kinds of misconceptions about the mammogram. Learn more about the breast screening from Thomson Medical’s consultant breast surgeon, Dr Ho Gay Hui.

MYTH 1: RADIATION FROM REGULAR MAMMOGRAMS CAN CAUSE CANCER

According to Dr Ho, the radiation dose is very small and safe, and it is akin to what you would receive from your environment over three months.

MYTH 2: MAMMOGRAMS ARE VERY PAINFUL

This depends on the woman. “Not all women find the process painful. The majority describe it as ‘uncomfortable’,” says Dr Ho. However, keep in mind that the discomfort lasts only a few seconds. “The compression is necessary to get a clearer photo of the breast and reduce the chance of retakes,” she explains.

MYTH 3: ONLY THOSE WITH A FAMILY HISTORY OF BREAST CANCER SHOULD GET SCREENED REGULARLY

This is completely false. According to Dr Ho, only five to 10 per cent of all breast cancers are associated with genetic factors. “Seventy per cent of women with breast cancer do not have a family history. Hence, it is important for all women aged 40 and above to undergo screening.”

MYTH 4: DOING A MAMMOGRAM EVERY FEW YEARS INSTEAD OF YEARLY IS FINE

A cancerous breast tumour can grow quickly or slowly. Some take just a few months to grow to a size that can be felt, so the medical recommendation is to go for a yearly screening once you turn 40.

MYTH 5: YOUNG WOMEN DO NOT GET BREAST CANCER

The Singapore Cancer Registry reported that between 2010 and 2014, 18 per cent of the women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer were under the age of 45. “Women should start doing breast self-examinations from the age of 20, once a month just after their menstrual period,” says Dr Ho. “Besides a lump in the breast, you should look out for nipple discharge, the retraction of the nipple, or skin changes (such as a rash) at the nipple-areolar area. But don’t panic, eight out of 10 times, it is not cancer.”