The three major cancers that doctors advocate screening for among women are breast cancer, cervical cancer and colon cancer, Dr Esther Chuwa, consultant breast and general surgeon at Gleneagles Hospital.
Dr Chia Yin Nin, consultant gynaecologist and gynaecologist oncologist at Gleneagles Hospital, adds that women should consider age category-specific screenings: those under 40 should aim to get a pap smear and clinical breast examination done yearly, while those above 40 should have annual mammograms and annual pelvic ultrasound scans. Plus, all women should do their breast self-examination every month. Individuals who are at high-risk for lung cancer (such as heavy smokers) should also consider screening.
Breast cancer screening
Three main tests are used in breast cancer detection – mammograms, clinical breast examinations and breast self-examinations. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breasts. It can detect microcalcifications (tiny calcium deposits) in the breast that indicate cancer. However, women whose breasts are very dense on mammograms can get an ultrasound as well to help detect lumps and changes that are obscured by the dense breast tissue, says Dr Chuwa. In a clinical breast examination, a doctor or nurse will use their hands to feel for lumps or other changes. The same applies for a self-examination.
Cervical cancer screening
Pap smears help detect abnormalities in the cervix that may lead to cervical cancer. During a pap smear, your doctor will insert a speculum to widen your vagina and collect a few cells from the cervical area, says Dr Chia. These cells are then sent to a laboratory for testing. HPV testing can also be carried out with these same cell samples.
Colon cancer screening
The two recommended screenings for colon cancer are the faecal immunochemical test (FIT) and colonoscopy, says Dr Chia. The FIT is a test that helps detect the presence of blood in your stools. The doctor will provide you with a kit to collect your stool samples – which you can do at home. The samples are then sent to a laboratory for testing. A colonoscopy must be done in a hospital. During the procedure, a trained doctor will insert the colonoscope (an imaging device on a thin, flexible tube) through your anus to check the inner lining of your large intestine for abnormalities.
Clinics often offer the above tests as part of a more comprehensive health screening that may include blood tests for tumour markers of other cancers (like ovarian and pancreatic), urine tests (for urological cancer) as well as liver and kidney function tests. It might be more economical to consider these packages, so speak to your doctor for her recommendations.