October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. What better time to learn about breast cancer screening in Hong Kong.
Breast cancer is currently the most common cancer among women in Hong Kong. It is the third leading cause of cancer deaths (after lung and colorectal cancers) of women in our city. Getting screened for breast cancer is your best defense so let’s get started on when, how and why.
BREAST CANCER SCREENING IN HONG KONG
The Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation (HKBCF) is looking at a policy to implement population-wide breast screening. Although the government revised its breast screening policy in July 2020, currently suggesting women with average risk of breast cancer to undertake mammography once every two years, there is so far no screening measures in place. Watch this space.
WHAT IS BREAST CANCER SCREENING
Breast cancer screening involves gathering information in order to detect disease or find people at increased risk of disease (even those without symptoms). It also involves physical examinations and other investigations if necessary. It is often the first step in making a definitive diagnosis. The main purpose of breast cancer screening is to offer the earliest possible treatment to women who have breast cancer. This is ensures a higher possibility of saving lives. Screening often detects breast cancer before there are any symptoms.
HOW THE SCREENING IS DONE
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask you questions about your family history. Depending on your age and other risk factors, your doctor may send you to get a mammogram. Mammography, the most widely used screening tool, is essentially an X-ray examination of the breast tissues. Each breast is pressed between 2 plates to flatten and spread the breast tissue in order to obtain a clear image. It can be briefly uncomfortable, but the discomfort usually doesn’t last long. Mammography screening is safe in general and only a very small dose of radiation is used in the procedure.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU GET CHECKED
The Hong Kong Government revised its breast cancer screening policy in July 2020. It now suggests women with average risk to undertake mammography once every two years. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors.
WHAT ABOUT ULTRASOUND?
Breast ultrasound can capture images of areas of the breast that may be difficult to see with mammography. It can also help determine if a breast lump is a solid mass or a fluid-filled cyst. Most often, a breast ultrasound is done to find out if a problem found by a mammogram (or physical exam) of the breast may be a cyst filled with fluid or a solid tumor. Breast ultrasound is not usually done to screen for breast cancer because it may miss some early signs of cancer.
However, a study done in Hong Kong on 17,139 local breast cancer patients found that when performed alone, mammography had an accuracy of 85.2% but when performed with breast ultrasound, detection accuracy rose to nearly 95%. The surge is even more significant among young women who have high breast density (more common in Asian women). This suggests that ultrasound is an important tool.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better your chance of treating it. If you know your risk factors, decrease the factors you can control, and understand when and how to get screened, you might just save your life.