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SPOTLIGHTS
Detecting Signs of Breast Cancer
In this interview, Jeong Jae Youn, Country Manager for GE Healthcare Singapore & Emerging ASEAN provide insights to mammograms and ultrasound methods used for early detection of signs of breast cancer.

1. At what age should women go for a mammogram and why?

According to the Singapore Cancer Society, women between ages 40 to 49 should go for a mammogram screening once every year. From age 50 and above, a mammogram screening is recommended once every two years unless your doctor advises otherwise.

Mammography is usually not recommended for younger women (below 40) as their breasts tend to be denser, making it difficult for small changes to be detected. Instead, an ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves, is the preferred method. This is something that women can discuss with their doctors if they have any concerns about their breast health or during regular check-ups.

2. What should women expect when going for a mammogram?

Regular mammograms are a critical tool in detecting breast cancer. A technologist will position the patient’s breasts for the mammogram machine. To get a high-quality picture, the patient’s breast must be flattened on the machine’s plate. The plastic upper plate is lowered to compress your breast for a few seconds while the technologist scans an image. The process is repeated for the other side and takes about 20 minutes. The actual breast compression only lasts a few seconds each time.

Some patients might feel some discomfort when your breasts are compressed, and for some women it can be painful. There are new technologies from mammogram manufacturers today, which consider the patient’s experience with more ergonomic plates as well as special features such as self-compression of the plates, so that the experience is more comfortable and less intimidating. For instance, in Singapore, several public and private healthcare providers such as IHH Healthcare Singapore, Radlink and KK Women’s & Children’s Hospital, all use GE Healthcare’s 3-D mammography technology. This system is unique because it is created with patient comfort in mind to reduce the stress and anxiety associated with breast screenings.

3. What kind of information do doctors look out from a mammogram to determine the presence of breast cancer?

When possible, the doctor reading the mammogram will compare it to old mammograms to identify any new findings, or to track any changes from previous mammograms. Findings that have not changed from older mammograms are not likely to be cancer, which might mean that patient will not require further tests. The doctor will be looking for different types of breast changes, such as small white spots known as calcifications, larger abnormal areas called masses, and other suspicious areas that could be signs of cancer.

4. What is the difference between a mammography and ultrasound in the diagnosis of breast cancer?

A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray that allows radiologists to look for changes in the breast tissue while ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the breasts. Unlike X-rays and CT scans, ultrasounds do not use radiation and are therefore suitable for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.

That said, mammograms are considered to be the gold standard when it comes to diagnostic screening. Ultrasound is commonly used as a supplementary screening tool in breast cancer detection. However, the technology is extremely relevant in Asia due to the higher percentage of women who have denser breasts. In Singapore alone, nearly 2,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, with women aged 50 and above to at a higher risk of developing the disease according to the Singapore Cancer Society.

With dense breast tissue, it is harder for cancer to be detected with a traditional mammogram. In two separate Breast Cancer Society Consortium reports of film-screen mammography, mammographic sensitivity decreased by up to 21 percent in patients with extremely dense breast tissue. Furthermore, the presence of dense breast tissue not only increases the risk of breast cancer up to 4-6 times. In such cases, a supplementary screening via ultrasound is highly recommended.

The technology introduced today by GE Healthcare enhances the patient experience by using 3D ultrasound technology to comfortably and quickly image women with dense breast tissue in approximately 15 minutes. Personalizing the experience further for women are features that conform to a woman’s body and provide more enhanced images. The procedure is also automated, which allows less room for error and frees up the radiologists’ workflow so that they can focus on other critical tasks as patients undergo the scan.

5. Besides going for a mammogram or an ultrasound what steps can women take to check for signs of breast cancer?

A breast self-examination done once every month is the best tool to complement body scans done in a hospital or clinic setting.

According to the Singapore Cancer Society, the best time to examine your breasts is 7 to 10 days after the start of your period, when your breast is least tender and swollen. It is best done while lying down on the bed, but you can also check while standing in the shower or in front of the mirror.

6. What are some causes of breast cancer and how can women above 40 prevent breast cancer as much as possible from occurring?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some causes include simply, getting older. The risk for breast cancer increases with age with most breast cancers diagnosed after women turn 50. Another cause are genetic mutations such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, which can be inherited. Women who have family members with a history of breast cancer are more likely to get breast cancer. Additionally, having dense breasts is another factor and is also harder to detect on a mammogram.

References:

  1. https://www.singaporecancersociety.org.sg/get-screened/breast-cancer/mammogram.html

  2. https://pubs.rsna.org/doi/full/10.1148/rg.352140106.

  3. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/risk_factors.htm#:~:text=The% 20risk%20for%20breast%20cancer,of%20breast%20and%20ovarian%20cancer.

About the interviewee

Jae Youn (JY) is the Country Manager for GE Healthcare’s Imaging, Ultrasound, Life Care Solutions and Services business segments in Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos. He has more than 16 years of sales and marketing experience in the Healthcare sector in Korea and Asia Pacific.

JY took on his current role in March 2020 and is responsible for GE Healthcare’s go-to-market strategy for Singapore as well as for accelerating the business’ growth in developing markets. Between 2007 and 2011, JY was responsible for GE Healthcare’s Ultrasound and Channel business in Korea and in 2012, was responsible for GE Healthcare’s Point-of-Care Ultrasound business for Asia Pacific (Japan, Korea, ASEAN, ANZ).

JY started his career in 2004 in Korea with Roche Diagnostics and subsequently moved on to various commercial roles with B. Braun, GE Healthcare Korea, GE Healthcare APAC and Samsung Medison (Samsung Electronics HME Division) Global HQ before relocating to ASEAN in 2016 to join Siemens. During his 4 years with Siemens in Singapore, JY held various regional roles in Channel Business Development for APAC(Japan, Korea, ASEAN, India, ANZ) and Ultrasound for ASEAN.

JY holds a degree in Applied Statistics from Konkuk University, Seoul, Korea.

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