Letter to SingHealth - A Woman's Wish (4 June 2007)
I congratulate you on the launch of 'Outram Now' (SGH free newspaper). In your May/Jun 2007 issue, I saw your advertisement on 'A Woman's Wish' - inviting women to tell you their needs, hopes and wishes.
Having the interests of all women at heart, I would like to put forth my thoughts on the present breast cancer detection methods/services offered by SGH.
Mammography is not a safe detection technique as it involved x-rays. X-rays are a very inconclusive diagnostic procedure; they do not always produce a clear image. Very often, it fails to detect cancerous growth in women with dense breast. I learned from a friend that her breast cancer was detected by ultrasonography in January 2007. Mammography failed to detect the lump in her breast. Whereas, another patient's breast cancer was not picked up by ultrasonography until a mammography was carried out on her. It was third stage breast cancer.
Even with the latest digital mammogram system that claimed to have enhanced detection tools offering far more accurate results, I reckon it is also not a foolproof diagnostic procedure.
Take for example a woman with a strong family history of breast cancer, frequent mammography will increase her breast cancer risk each year because of the exposure to radiation. All other women also increase to a certain degree their cancer risk from such diagnostic x-rays.
Unlike the digital mammography, the breasts are literally crushed during conventional mammography. Have doctors ever consider that such form of manipulation of the existing tumour may spread cancer cells into the system, thus increasing the likelihood of future metastasis? With the set up of SGH's digital imaging system for mammography, it should discontinue the conventional mammography instead of providing both services.
Besides, when performing monthly BSE, most women will benefit more from a safer method of breast lump detection if SGH could also provide thermography.
I learned that thermography is based on the principle that cancer cells are hotter than normal cells. Special equipment is used to measure the heat of the cells. You get a more accurate determination of trouble with this device than you do with x-rays. But when thermography shows that heat is present, it suggests that further evaluation is indicated. The cells are not necessarily malignant - they could be inflamed instead. It does indicate, at least, whether or not there is a problem, without using offensive x-rays.
Please let me know if it is possible for SGH to provide thermography for women who do not wish to be exposed to harmful x-rays. There is a danger involved in overexposure especially, if SGH advises women above 40 years old to have regular mammograms. In one book, it stated that one increases her breast cancer risk by 3 percent per year because of the radiation exposure.
Lee Soh Hong
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Posted on 4 June 2007