Here’s Why Women Should Go for Regular Health Screenings

Higher education professional Dr Mariana Losada’s talks about how her personal journey with cancer prevention led to the opening of a women’s health centre in Singapore.
Published: March 21, 2024
Photo: Emiliano Vittoriosi/Unsplash

“I’ve always been someone who benefited from good health and naturally made no great effort to live a healthy lifestyle. My husband often jokes that it’s easier for me to stay fit, since I usually crave kiwis and vegetables rather than cheese, cakes, and chocolate bars, as he does. As a former gymnast, I exercise regularly and am disciplined in many aspects of my life, including going for annual medical check‑ups. After more than a year of avoiding hospitals because of the Covid‑19 pandemic, I booked a standard health screening with a gynaecologist in March 2021. I often suffer from painful periods, but in all honesty, I thought nothing of it because I always assumed that it was normal for women to experience menstrual pain. I was not prepared for what came next.

My screening revealed that I had a very large endometriotic cyst on my right ovary. I was advised to get it removed to avoid any complications. Never having had any surgery before, the idea of going into an operation theatre terrified me. I was only 42. I work at the National University of Singapore (NUS), handling international partnerships between France and Singapore, and have many ongoing collaborations with the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. So I consulted with Dr Ma Li, an endometriosis specialist at the National University Hospital (NUH). She suggested I get a hysterectomy, an invasive procedure that removes the womb but keeps the ovaries, so that I could still benefit from a good source of oestrogens for a few more years. I had no plans to have more kids; my kids were 13 and 6.

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Here’s Why Women Should Go for Regular Health Screenings
Photo: Alexander Krivitskiy/Unsplash

Still, it was a tough decision to make, even though it was obvious what I should do. So I gritted my teeth and got it done in late April. It was a success—thankfully, no cancer. I recovered quickly and looked forward to enjoying life without a uterus but also without period pain.

About two weeks later, my sister rang me to tell me that one of her closest friends had been diagnosed with breast cancer. That same evening, while attending a networking event, I met April, who shared that she had just ended her breast cancer treatment. She had lost all of her hair during the course of her treatment, but didn’t wear a wig. I found her such an inspiration and took the day’s events as a sign, diligently scheduling my mammogram the next morning.

It was a good thing I did. A few days after my mammogram, the results revealed that my right breast was full of microcalcifications. This is something quite common in most women, but in my case, they were in clusters—an indication that things were not quite what they should be.

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Here’s Why Women Should Go for Regular Health Screenings
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Breast specialist Dr Chan Ching Wan confirmed that they were cancer cells and that I needed a mastectomy. The good news was that the cancer had had no time to grow or spread elsewhere. That evening, as I put my anxiety away so we could all celebrate my husband’s birthday without a dark cloud looming over us, I wondered if I was ever going to be able to celebrate his birthday again.

The weeks that followed were a roller coaster of emotions. I had to digest so much information, and I realised that even though I was aware of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I knew nothing about the disease. And why would I? I lead a healthy lifestyle, I don’t eat red meat or smoke, I exercise daily and rarely drink alcohol. I had my first child in my twenties and breastfed my two kids for long periods of time. The whole scenario felt like science fiction to me. It felt so unfair.

That commitment to women’s health, my new‑found mission, gave me the strength to go through the terrifying weeks that followed.

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While waiting for the surgery, I shared my experience with friends and talked about the importance of screenings. That’s when I realised that most of them—these highly educated women—knew little about breast cancer, or any other women’s health issues, for that matter. Even worse, those who did suffer multiple health conditions, like fibromas, ovarian torsion, mastitis, fibrosis, et cetera, did so in silence. It was at that moment that I realised we needed to stop viewing these conditions negatively and instead, spread the message of empowerment. That was the day I became an advocate for women’s health.

That commitment to women’s health, my new‑found mission, gave me the strength to go through the terrifying weeks that followed. In less than three months, I went through three surgeries, with my mastectomy ending up being a double mastectomy. I appeared calm and in control on the outside, but on the inside, I was petrified. I needed time and courage to adjust to the new me, ever so fearful that my femininity was being stripped away.

During this tumultuous period, I discovered Prune Nourry, a multidisciplinary French artist who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31. She documented her experience in Aux Amazones, a book whose title pays tribute to the Amazons, women of Greek mythology, who mutilated their right breasts to become better archers.

Nourry used her art as catharsis for healing. I, on the other hand, decided to use my profession. So, I contacted the deans of the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at NUS and Université Paris Cité to work on a women’s health‑related collaboration. That’s how the Saving Women’s Lives initiative started in 2023—as a simple idea to overcome a challenge by shaping policy‑making through outreach activities.

Today, the initiative is a testament to life and the hope that we want to share with all women and girls, whether they’re mothers, daughters, sisters, or wives. It’s also a homage to my dear friend and colleague who left this world too early last year, at age 34, because her breast cancer was not discovered early enough. Altaïna, this is my tribute to you, and to all the Amazons and all the women who suffer in silence.”


Photo: Courtesy of Mariana Losada

Losada is the director of the Paris-NUS Program and a lecturer in social sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS). After an aggressive experience with cancer in 2021, she pushed for a partnership on women’s health through the Global Centre for Asian Women’s Health (GloW), which officially launched in November 2023 at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in NUS and the Institut Santé des Femmes currently being established at the Faculty of Health in Université Paris Cité.


Dedicated to promoting women’s health globally, GloW embraces a holistic ethos of preventive care that is essential to women’s health and well‑being. This includes cardio‑metabolic health, reproductive health, cancer, nutrition and lifestyle, mental health, and beyond. GloW is spearheaded by founding director, professor Cuilin Zhang, who brings with her more than 20 years of experience in women’s health, and maternal and child health.


Recognising women’s health and well‑being as a universal concern, GloW set up the Saving Women’s Lives initiative as a way to build partnership, increase awareness, promote research, and shape and impact policy-making through outreach activities. To that end, it will hold its inaugural fundraising gala dinner on 11 May at Shangri-La Singapore, with an open invitation to guests from the medical field as well as researchers, business organisations, artists, and health advocates. Held as part of the vOilah! France-Singapore Festival, the event celebrates cross‑border collaborations, and aims to raise public awareness about both the importance of preventive measures and the primordial risk factors in women’s health. Funds raised will support collaborative research projects and educational initiatives between GloW and Institut Santé des Femmes, with the aim to advance knowledge and practices for women’s health and well‑being. To book a seat at the fundraiser, visit

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