Low breast screening rates amongst Malay women

by | July 5, 2024

Breast Cancer Foundation plans to enhance programmes and collaborate with related organisations.


Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF), in collaboration with Roche and the Society of Behavioral Health Singapore, conducted a multi-sectoral workshop involving Malay Muslim organisations, government agencies and medical professionals to investigate the issues of low breast cancer screening amongst Malay women in Singapore.

Low screening rates can stem from cultural barriers, lack of awareness, financial constraints, fear of social stigma, reliance on alternative therapies, and familial obligations. According to BCF, as of 2022, only 37.6 percent of Singaporean women aged 50 to 69 participated in breast cancer screening. Alarmingly, this figure drops to 21.5 percent among Malay women.

Some insights from the workshop:

  • Factors contributing to late-stage diagnosis: Cultural taboos surrounding discussions of breast health and screening, coupled with a lack of awareness about the importance of early detection, contribute to delayed presentation to healthcare providers. Socioeconomic factors such as limited access to healthcare facilities and financial constraints further worsen these challenges.
  • Cultural & societal barriers to seeking treatment: Misconceptions about cancer, fear of social ostracisation, and reliance on alternative therapies may lead some individuals to avoid seeking medical help until symptoms become severe. Moreover, familial obligations and caregiving responsibilities can deter women from prioritising their health needs.

As a result, many Malay women are diagnosed at later stages, leading to more aggressive treatment requirements and poorer prognoses. Adeline Kow, general manager at BCF, shared: “Early detection, and timely treatment are vital in reducing the mortality rates of breast cancer among Malay women.”

Dr Choo Bok Ai, a radiation oncologist, committee member at BCF, and participant in the workshop, shared his perspective, “In my practice, I come across many Malay women who present with advanced local breast cancer, where the breasts are fungating, bleeding, infected, and causing much pain. At these late stages, there are fewer treatment options, and the clinical outcomes can only be improved by palliative radiotherapy. We must drive home the point of early detection: saving breasts, and saving lives.”

BCF plans to enhance awareness through culturally sensitive education programmes, improve access to screening services, collaborate with mosques and Muslim institutions, engage healthcare organisations, and partner with religious leaders.


(** PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash/ Angiola Harry)


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