I just had my first mammogram screening at a Polyclinic in Singapore and thought I’ll share my first-hand experience going through this procedure. This, I hope will address some myths such as breast screening being painful or that mammograms would cause cancer.
I’ll also provide cost information and share where you can get free mammogram screening or subsidized ones in Singapore. If you are considering going for your first mammogram, read this post as it would prepare you on what to expect.
UPDATE (Oct 2020): This post was first published in Oct 2019 and updated to include latest available information.
What is Mammogram? Why did I do it?
Mammogram screening is a procedure that involves taking x-ray pictures of your breasts so as to detect any signs of breast cancer.
It isn’t a fun thing to do and has a notorious reputation of being painful. So, why did I decide to go for a screening? Was I too free?
No lah! I decided to go for one because I’ve hit the recommended age, i.e. 40 years old and above. However, I didn’t put my thoughts into action until I met up with an old-time friend recently. I was sad to hear that her elder sister whom I had met in my younger days was diagnosed with breast cancer.
By the time I knew about it, the sister was already in palliative care and passed on a few weeks later. She was in her 40s, a very young age by today’s standard. This incident gave me the final push to do what is needed, which is to get my dearest sisters screened.
Important: Those with a family history of breast cancer should begin mammogram even earlier than the recommended age. Please consult with your doctor on the appropriate time to commence screening, and the frequency of doing so.
Mammogram Screening Cost in Singapore
Feeling motivated by a real-life event, I started researching on mammogram screening services in Singapore and was happy to learn that I didn’t have to break a bank to get my sisters checked.
From the Health Promotion Board and the Singapore Cancer Society websites, I could see that there are free and subsidized breast screening services available in Singapore. Here’s a brief summary of what I’ve gathered:
1. Free Mammogram in Singapore
If you are a Singaporean and are a first-time screener, check out the Community Mammobus that offers free mammogram screening. These are buses that moves around the housing estates based on a pre-fixed schedule to offer heartlanders or residents easy access to mammogram services.
UPDATE (2020): Due to Covid-19, there will be no mammobus deployments until further notice.
Even if you aren’t a first timer or a Singaporean, the price of mammogram is still very affordable based on the table below.
Unfortunately, all slots were fully booked by the time I called. This goes to show their popularity and how you have to book early if you want free things in Singapore. :)
Click to view latest deployment schedule of Mammobus.
Singapore Cancer Society
Another way you can get free mammogram is to visit the Singapore Cancer Society. However, you’ve got to meet the following conditions:
- Be 50 years old and above and have not gone for such screening in the last two years
- Hold a CHAS card
More information is available here.
2. Only S$25 at Polyclinics
When I called up a Polyclinic in Singapore to enquire about the price of mammogram services, the staff told me about an ongoing promotion – S$25 for mammogram screening. This rate applies to Singaporeans only, and PRs would pay $50.
I’m not sure how long this “promotion” would last. Just give them a call to enquire before you make an appointment.
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UPDATE (2020): The latest promotion of $25 per mammogram screening is from 1 Oct to 31 Dec 2020. Refer to more info here.
3. $25 Discount Off Other Singapore Clinics
Not keen in option 1 and 2? You can also get a S$25 discount at your preferred clinic, provided you meet the screening eligibility.
For info, mammogram services at private clinics typically cost upwards of S$100.
TIP: If you are 50 years and above, you can use your Medisave for mammogram at Medisave-approved centres. The amount you can use a year is capped at S$500.
When to Schedule for Mammogram Screening?
I was happy with Option 2, that is, to pay S$25 for a mammogram screening at a Polyclinic in Singapore and decided to fix an appointment.
The staff suggested that I schedule my breast screening one week after my menses to avoid tender breasts and sensitivity. I booked mine 9 days after my last menses and didn’t experience any discomfort.
Another thing that I want to share with you is how I experienced minimal waiting for a 2pm weekday appointment. I later learnt that 2pm was the first time slot of the afternoon session. So you may want to do the same if you want to cut down waiting time.
Okay, now that we are done with the logistics, let me walk you through what happened on the actual day of the mammogram screening.
Arriving at Singapore Polyclinic for Mammogram
The initial experience at the Polyclinic wasn’t great. Based on a signage instruction placed at the Polyclinic’s entrance, I joined a queue and waited for 15 minutes attempting to get a queue number from the self-service kiosk.
When my turn came, I had difficulty getting a queue number for mammogram service.
The staff stationed at the kiosk then told me I could just proceed to the Radiology Department located on a different level. I wish they had told me this info when I’d called to make the appointment or before I joined the queue.
I then went up to the Radiology Department and found a “closed” sign hanging at the glass door. After walking a few rounds and checking with some staff in other “rooms”, I finally learnt that a polyclinic would close during lunch hours, from 1pm to 2pm.
How ignorant of me to assume that they would operate like a hospital. :) Yes, I’m quite a newbie to Polyclinic. :)
Anyway, thereafter, everything was smooth-sailing.
When the door to the Radiology Department opened punctually at 2pm, I registered at the counter and was given a form to sign.
This form sought my consent for my medical info to be released to the Singapore Cancer Society for research purpose. In exchange, I would get a subsidy (on top of other government subsidy) and pay only S$25 for a mammogram screening at the Singapore Polyclinic.
Payment was then collected before treatment and I was asked to wait for my name to be called.
It didn’t take long. Soon, I was in the treatment room with a lady radiographer and ready to experience my very first breast screening.
“Is it going to be painful?” I asked the staff.
“Well, it depends on individual. But if you feel any discomfort, just let us know.”
In the Room: What happens during a Mammogram Screening?
The female radiographer told me to undress (top only) in her presence. She then guided me to the machine and helped me adjust so that the breast was placed on top of the plastic “plate” while I was in a standing position.
When everything was right and in place, the affable staff adjusted the top “clamp” to close in on the breast.
TIP: Listen to instruction provided by the staff and try not to move once the position is in place even if you may be standing in an awkward/slanted position. This will make things quick and easy for everyone.
You’ll likely feel pressure, not pain. In fact, I felt more friction around the rib (rubbing against the movable machine) than the breasts. But of course, when it comes to pain, there can be many factors in place, such as an individual’s pain threshold and the staff who provides the service.
TIP: Remember, just tell the staff if you experience any discomfort such as the breast being over-compressed. It didn’t happen to me, but in case it happens to you (Choy!), it’s important to let the other party know how you are ‘feeling’.
Mine was painless. And that made me wonder why mom told me her mammogram session was “…very painful!” Perhaps, mom was subject to older machines since she did it decades ago. Or she could just be someone who has a low threshold for discomfort.
How long does it take?
Two X-ray shots were taken for each breast. That makes it 4 shots in total. And then I was out of the clinic within 17 minutes, counted from the time I stepped into the Radiology department.
Yup, I was out by 2.17pm.
Fast, isn’t it? I was so impressed with the speedy service especially when Singapore’s public clinics and hospitals have been known to involve extremely long waiting time!
That’s all I have for you today. Hopefully, this first-hand account of mammogram will motivate you to go for early breast screening.
To recap, mammogram isn’t painful, expensive or time-consuming. If you are 40 years and above, I recommend that you get yourself checked, as early detection can significantly boost the chance of surviving a breast cancer.
As a Singaporean, I think we are extremely lucky because there are many public programmes initiated by the health authority (HPB) to encourage and help us take care of our health. So, let us do our part and take the first step in taking care of ourselves.
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(This post was first published in Oct 2019, and last updated in Oct 2020 to include latest available information.)
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