Credit: Jamie Yeo

If you follow Jamie Yeo on Instagram, you’ll see snippets of her idyllic life in the British countryside, where she has relocated to with her husband, Rupert, and children, Alysia and Luke. But while the mum-of-two looks to be living her best life, she had a major health scare in 2021.

During a regular breast self-examination, Jamie felt a lump in her breast. “Lumps are actually pretty common, so I didn’t really think much of it,” she says. But after a discussion with her husband, she decided to arrange for a health screening “just to be on the safe side”.

She underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), targeted ultrasound and biopsy. The biopsy results were inconclusive, but she decided to remove the lump anyway. During the surgery, the doctors discovered that the lump was indeed cancerous.

A whirlwind of emotions

For Jamie, the scariest time was when she was waiting for her MRI and biopsy results. “I remember that weekend I couldn’t eat. I think I only had one apple and a handful of nuts,” she recalls.

“I just didn’t know how to react because I had gone through all this roller-coaster of emotions. When it (the diagnosis) was confirmed, I was just shocked. But then I was very relieved because at that point it had already been taken out,” she adds.

As her cancer was detected early, her doctor recommended radiation therapy to target the affected area. She did 20 sessions and is on an ongoing course of medication to block oestrogen.

Dr Yang Tuck Loong, a radiation oncologist at Gleneagles Hospital, explains, “Radiation therapy or radiotherapy can help deal with residual or potentially malignant cells which may not be detected at the time of diagnosis. It can reduce the risk of the cancer coming back to the same area where it was first found, from a lifelong risk of over 35 per cent to about 19 per cent. The risk of mortality from breast cancer also drops by 4 per cent from 25 to 21 per cent,” he explains.

Two years later, Jamie has become a strong advocate of early screening and testing. She is sharing her story to help protect the health and lives of other women.

Having found a fresh perspective on life after her cancer diagnosis, former actress and radio deejay Jamie Yeo hopes other women will get screened for cancer early. Credit: Jamie Yeo

“Get yourself checked. The good thing about breast cancer is you can feel for it [lumps], and catch it early. No matter how young you are, it really just takes a few minutes to self-examine and only a few hours to get professional screening,” she shares.

Getting appropriate care for your situation

Jamie explains she decided to go to Gleneagles Hospital as she’d given birth to her daughter, and always felt comfortable, there.

The hospital focuses on helping its patients navigate their treatment with the aim of regaining their quality of life. 

Gleneagles Hospital Singapore chief executive officer Thomas Wee says, “At Gleneagles, the patient is at the centre of all that we do. Personifying our tagline ‘On Your Side’, our multi-disciplinary team empathises with the patient, to understand his or her needs. In this way, we ensure the patient’s healing journey is complete and comprehensive.”

Jamie had a team of multidisciplinary healthcare professionals including a medical oncologist, surgeon, radiation oncologist and nurses to care for her, and to work out a comprehensive and customised treatment road map from diagnosis to post-surgery recovery. 

“Having cancer gave me a fresh perspective on life and I knew what really mattered in life,” says Jamie. 

“I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to detect cancer early.”

Get screened today

Gleneagles Hospital provides general cancer screening packages.

The Basic LifeScreen package involves a clinical examination and medical consultation to check for basic body vitals, presence of tumour markers and blood in stool (colorectal cancer screening). This screening is available at all Parkway Shenton clinics.

The Comprehensive LifeScreen package comprises all the tests available in the Basic LifeScreen package as well as additional tests to screen for nasopharyngeal, lung and gender-specific cancers. Women are offered screening tests for breast and cervical cancers, while men are screened for prostate cancer.

The Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screen package checks for up to 50 early cancers by detecting cancer-associated alterations in DNA fragments circulating in the blood. 

Individuals experiencing symptoms are recommended to see a general practitioner or specialist at Gleneagles Hospital.

For information related to cancer screening and cancer care, visit the Gleneagles Hospital website.

Why early screening for cancer matters

This International Women’s Day on March 8, make self-care a priority and get screened for common women’s cancers. As in the case of Jamie, early detection and treatment can contribute to better outcomes.

It’s widely known that breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in Singapore, and also the leading cause of cancer death among women here. 

However, it is also one of the most detectable and, if detected early, is treatable. Screening for breast cancer includes self-examination of the breast and a mammogram. 

Other than breast cancer, other types of cancers can also be detected via screening. 

Dr Bertha Woon, general and breast surgeon at Gleneagles Hospital, says, “Early detection of common cancers such as breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer – and for women, cervical cancer – can save lives. It leads to less treatment, higher chance of recovery, lower chance of recurrence, less intense treatment and less financial outlay. Screening can mean the difference between curing and symptomatic management.” 

One in four people may develop cancer in their lifetime and screening is one of the most efficient ways to detect and get treatment before cancer spreads. 

If breast cancer is detected and it is localised or has not spread, the five-year survival rate is 99 per cent. The survival rate is 86 per cent if the cancer has spread to the regional lymph nodes, according to the American Cancer Society.

However, Dr Woon cautions that these statistics are only rough estimates as there are many different variables to consider. 

The survival rates are also different for different types of cancer, which is why early detection is still a priority.

Protect yourself from these common women’s cancers

Breast cancer: Women aged 40 to 49 should go for yearly mammograms; once every two years for those aged 50 to 69. Self-examinations should be done once a month. Dr Woon also advises those with a family history of breast cancer to get screened 10 years before the age of the youngest person in the family with cancer.

Colorectal cancer: Individuals aged 50 and above, as well as those with a family history of colorectal cancer, familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer, should get a fecal occult blood test and colonoscopy. Dr Quah Hak Mien, colorectal and general surgeon at Gleneagles Hospital, says: “Those with a personal history of colorectal polyps, colorectal malignancy and ovarian or endometrial cancer, as well as individuals with inflammatory bowel disease, are also recommended to go for screening.”

Uterine cancer: Women who experience symptoms such as abnormal bleeding, intermenstrual spotting, prolonged menstrual bleeding, irregular periods, bleeding after menopause and discharge can undergo pelvic examination, ultrasound, hysteroscopy, biopsy, and dilation and curettage (D&C). Dr Chia Yin Nin, gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital, says there are no specific screening tests in Singapore for uterine cancer, but women are encouraged to go for regular health screening.

Lung cancer: Early detection is crucial as Dr Kenneth Chan, consultant respiratory physician and intensivist at Gleneagles Hospital says: “There is a big difference in survival between lung cancers which are detected early, usually via screening, versus those detected at an advanced stage.” Those aged between 55 and 74 who have smoked one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years or more, smokers who quit less than 15 years ago, and individuals with a first-degree relative (e.g. parent, sibling) with lung cancer, should get a low-dose computed tomography chest scan.

Lymphoma: While there is no screening test or specific tumour marker for lymphoma, Dr Lee Yuh Shan, haematologist at Gleneagles Hospital, says a physical examination for enlarged lymph nodes, liver or spleen can be helpful. Other diagnostic tests include a full blood count and blood film to detect raised lymphocytes or atypical lymphocytes, as well as radiological tests like chest x-ray and ultrasound of the neck. Certain lymphoma has family linkage, hence those with family members with lymphoma are encouraged to undergo annual health screenings.

Brought to you by Gleneagles Hospital Singapore