Some people collect stamps, others vintage memorabilia. Dr Li Jingmei, a scientist at A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore, collects mammograms, which she studies to see how breast density predicts cancer risks.
“Usually when a woman goes for an X-ray scan of her breasts for early cancer detection, the mammogram is then discarded but I make full use of these scans to predict breast cancer by looking at proportion of white tissue in the entire breast,” she explains. “You can say that I look at pictures of breasts for a living!”
Dr Li – who received the UNESCO-L’Oreal International For Women In Science Fellowship in 2014 – says the higher the proportion of white tissue, the higher a patient’s risk of contracting breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Singapore, and the leading cause of cancer deaths among women here. Over the course of a lifetime, 1 in 16 women here will develop breast cancer by age 75.
According to the most recent report from the Singapore Cancer Registry, between 2008 and 2012, deaths from breast cancer made up 17.9 per cent of all female fatalities by cancer.
As such, Dr Li’s work is as important as ever in helping to improve the health of women, a task which the she is more than happy to undertake.
“The thing about breast cancer is that no one wants to talk about it. They feel like being sick is a burden to others,” she says. “I aim to change that by increasing breast cancer awareness.”