Health screening is one of those things that most people don’t look forward to. The word itself can sound pretty daunting. At the same time, it’s something that shouldn’t be avoided. For starters, it can help you detect medical conditions and address them early.
And as the old saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure.” Before you apply for a health screening in Singapore, here are some things that you should know.
What is health screening?
Health screenings use tests, physical examinations, or other procedures to detect medical conditions early for individuals who look and/or feel well. It’s not just for those with risk factors; it’s for everyone.
Going for a health screening is beneficial for you in the long run as it serves as a preventive measure. While some conditions don’t have any symptoms in the early stages, they can still be detected by doing a health screening.
When a medical condition is detected early, the appropriate treatment can be given before it’s too late. In addition, early detection helps to lower your risk of serious complications, increasing your chances of recovery.
Is health screening the same as diagnostic tests?
No, health screening and diagnostic tests aren’t the same thing.
A health screening is done even when you’re healthy. On the other hand, the doctor will perform a diagnostic test when you experience symptoms of a medical condition.
While a health screening is done for early detection, a diagnostic test is used to confirm if you’re suffering from that medical condition.
What are the types of health screening available in Singapore?
In Singapore, health screening generally falls under 2 categories: basic and specific health screening.
Everyone should go for the basic health screening. Consisting of a physical check-up and several screening tests, it detects common medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Conversely, a specific health screening is used to detect specific diseases, and is done based on the individual’s specific health needs.
What’s in a health screening package in Singapore?
Health screening packages in Singapore usually include tests to detect common illnesses such as diabetes.
Depending on the health screening package you’re going for, there might be a few tests that are not included in the basic package.
Basic health screening package
In general, a basic health screening in Singapore consists of:
- Health assessment
- Physical examination
- Blood glucose test
- Cholesterol test
- Blood pressure test
This is when you meet with the doctor to assess your medical history and lifestyle. This session helps the doctor identify if you require any additional tests, especially if you have potential risks such as family history.
At this stage, basic measurements such as height and weight are taken to determine your BMI. You’ll also have your vision checked.
Blood glucose test
To test for diabetes, a blood sample is taken after fasting.
Checking on your cholesterol level is also useful in detecting any heart-related diseases. Like the blood glucose test, the cholesterol test is taken after fasting.
Blood pressure test
This is to detect if you’re suffering from high blood pressure, which can lead to heart diseases.
For a full health screening in Singapore, you may need to add a few more tests to your package. Some of the typical add-ons include the following:
- Full blood count
- Urine analysis
Short for electrocardiogram, this test involves placing electrodes on your body. It records your heart activity to detect any heart condition.
Full blood count
A blood sample is taken to check if you have anaemia.
To check on your kidney function, a urine sample will be taken. It can also be used to check on your overall health.
What’s included in MyDoc’s health screening?
Unlike most health screening packages in Singapore, MyDoc’s basic health screening comprises more than 5 components. This includes:
- Health risk assessment completed prior to registration
- Height and weight measurements to determine BMI
- Blood pressure
- Diabetic panel (fasting glucose)
- Coronary risk/cardiac profile (cholesterol, triglycerides)
How often should you go for health screening?
Health screening helps to detect illnesses early, and early detection results in better medical outcomes.
How often you need to go for a health screening depends on 3 factors: age, health, and family history. It’s advisable that you ask for your doctor’s advice on this.
But the general rule is that an annual health screening is not necessary when you’re young.
It’s recommended that you go for one regularly after reaching a certain age, although the frequency depends on your health and the tests to be done. You should also go for a health screening regularly if you have a family history of diseases.
The good thing about MyDoc’s health screening is that it includes more of what you need and less of what you don’t. As the tests are available à la carte style, you’ll only be tested based on your needs. This means that you won’t have to go through any unnecessary tests, which helps you save money.
What kind of health screening to go for based on your age?
Here are the recommended screening tests that you should do at each age range.
|Age range||Disease to screen for||Screening test||Frequency|
|20s onwards||High blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases||Blood pressure measurement||Every 2 years|
|Cervical cancer for women||Pap smear (25 to 29 years old)||Every 3 years|
|HPV DNA test (30 years old and above)||Every 5 years|
|40s onwards||Diabetes||HbA1cFasting Blood Glucose (FBG) TestOral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT)||Every 3 years|
|50s onwards||Breast cancer for women||Mammogram||Every 2 years|
|Colorectal cancer||Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)||Every year|
|Colonoscopy||Every 10 years|
|60s onwards||Osteoporosis for women||Bone Mineral Density (BMD) tests||Every 1 – 2 years|
|Prostate cancer for men||Digital rectal examination (DRA)||Every 5 – 10 years|
|Prostate-specific antigen test (PSA)||Every 1 – 2 years|
20s and 30s
Generally at this age range, you should start going for screenings to check for high blood pressure and heart disease. Women should also start going for pap smears to check for cervical cancer.
Screen for high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases
Being young doesn’t mean that you’re immune to high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.
The risk of having high blood pressure is higher if you are/have the following:
- A smoker
- Family history of heart disease and diabetes
In addition, high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is often called a silent killer because it may not show any symptoms. If it’s not detected and managed properly, it can increase the risk of atherosclerosis (arteries hardening and narrowing), which can eventually lead to complications such as:
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Peripheral artery disease (narrowing of the blood vessels of the limbs)
In fact, cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in Singapore. Almost one-third of deaths in Singapore are due to heart diseases or stroke.
To prevent any of these complications, it’s recommended to go for regular check-ups to screen for high blood pressure and heart diseases every 2 years. And at this age range, the tests usually involve measuring blood pressure.
Screen for cervical cancer for women
Even if you’ve gone for the HPV vaccination, you’ll also need to go for regular screenings to prevent cervical cancer. This is because the vaccine can only protect you from 70% to 90% of the cancer-causing HPV strains.
When detected early, the chance of recovery after treatment in the early stages is more than 90%. As there are no signs or symptoms in the early stage, it’s advisable to go for regular screenings from this age range onwards.
All women are generally at risk as long as they’ve had sexual activity before. And the risk increases with the following:
- Condition that leaves you with a weak immunity system (e.g. lupus)
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) positive
If you’re between the ages of 25 and 29, the Ministry of Health (MOH) recommends that you go for a pap smear test every 3 years. It tests for pre-cancerous or cancerous cells in the cervix.
At this age range, most infections are usually cleared by your own body, so doing the HPV test may not be necessary.
If you’re aged 30 and above, it’s advisable to go for a Human Papillomavirus (HPV) DNA test every 5 years, instead of pap smear. As compared to pap smear, the HPV DNA test works by checking if the cells collected from your cervix has the DNA of high risk cancer-causing HPV strains.
If you have these high risk HPV strains, there’s an increased risk of your cells turning abnormal and developing into cervical cancer. But in some cases, your body will be able to clear these high risk HPV strains on its own.
This is the age to start screening for diabetes. You should also continue monitoring for hypertension, heart diseases, and cancer.
Screen for diabetes
Diabetes is another silent disease that doesn’t show any symptoms in the early stages. Even if you’re healthy, you should go for regular screenings every 3 years. This ensures that you can get the right treatment in time and prevent any late diagnosis. If detected late, it can lead to complications such as heart diseases and kidney disease.
Diabetes is more likely to develop from age 40 onwards, so it is recommended to start screening early. Besides age, the risk of diabetes increases with the following factors:
- Family history of diabetes
- BMI of 23.0 kg/m2 or higher
- Sedentary lifestyle
- High blood pressure
- Abnormal blood cholesterol levels
- History of gestational diabetes
- Impared glucose tolerance or fasting glucose
In general, 3 types of blood glucose tests are used to test for diabetes.
- HbA1c: A blood test that indicates your average blood glucose levels over the past 3 months; fasting is not needed for it.
- Fasting Blood Glucose (FBG) Test: You’ll need to fast for at least 8 hours before a blood sample is taken.
- Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT): This consists of 2 blood tests — the first one is done after an 8-hour fast, and the second one is done 2 hours after consuming a sugary drink.
Screen for hypertension and cardiovascular diseases
In addition to diabetes, you should continue getting screened for hypertension and heart diseases every 2 years.
And if you have a moderate to high risk of cardiovascular diseases but don’t experience any symptoms such as chest pain, you should go for yearly screenings. Some of the tests that you can do include:
- Resting ECG
- Exercise treadmill test to measure the heart’s ability to respond to stress
For a more comprehensive screening, you should opt for a fasting lipid blood test every 3 years to check your cholesterol level.
This cholesterol test helps to detect your risk of heart diseases as well, since having high cholesterol raises the chance of getting these diseases. It’s important to screen for this because signs of high cholesterol are usually only picked up during the screening.
Screen for cancer
Besides diabetes, the risk of getting certain types of cancer such as colon cancer and cervical cancer also increases at age 40 onwards. You should start screening for these types of cancer, especially if you have a family history.
Women should also continue with HPV DNA tests every 5 years to screen for cervical cancer.
While reaching the age of 50 can be considered a milestone, it’s also when your risk of getting colorectal cancer and breast cancer (for women) increases. So it’s important that you get screened for them at this age range onwards.
Screen for breast cancer for women
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women in Singapore. The risk for breast cancer increases once you reach 50.
In addition, other risk factors include:
- Family history of breast cancer
- History of malignant or benign breast disease
- History of ovarian cancers
- Early onset of menstruation
- Late menopause
- Having your first child after 30 years old
- Having fewer children or never having children
- Being on hormone replacement therapy
- Weight gain, especially after menopause
- Drinking alcohol
Unfortunately, early stage breast cancer usually doesn’t show any symptoms. But like most health conditions, your chances of recovery increases with early detection.
Besides doing monthly breast self-examination, you should start going for regular mammograms from age 50 onwards to protect yourself against breast cancer.
Mammograms are effective in detecting tiny breast lumps that can’t be felt by hand. It’s recommended that you go for mammograms every 2 years.
Screen for colorectal cancer
While breast cancer is the top cancer for women in Singapore, colorectal cancer is the number one cancer for both men and women in the country.
Similar to breast cancer, your chances of getting colorectal cancer is higher from the age of 50 onwards.
You’ll also have a higher risk if you have the following:
- Family history of colon or rectum cancer
- Previous history of colon polyps
- History of ulcerative colitis (ulcers in the lining of the large intestine) or Crohn’s disease
- Smoke or a diet high in fats and low in fruits and vegetables
To screen for colorectal cancer, a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) is done every year to check for signs of blood in your stools.
Alternatively, you may opt for a colonoscopy every 10 years to examine the inner lining of the large intestine.
Before going for the screening, be sure to discuss with your doctor first to check which type of test is more suitable for you.
Screening for other types of cancer
At this age range, you should keep going for screenings for other types of cancers, especially if you have a family history.
Additionally, women should continue with HPV screenings every 5 years to prevent the development of cervical cancer.
Screen for cardiovascular diseases
Likewise, you should keep going for cardiovascular risk screenings, especially if you have high blood pressure and a family history of heart diseases.
This is the age range when you should pay even more attention to your health. It’s also advisable that you start screening for osteoporosis (for women) and prostate cancer (for men).
Screen for osteoporosis for women
Osteoporosis is one of the biggest health risks for women from 60 years old onwards. It occurs when your bones become more brittle and weak. This also means that you’ll be more susceptible to fractures, which can result in immobilisation.
While both men and women can suffer from osteoporosis as they grow older, women are more prone to the condition due to menopause. The hormone oestrogen protects the bones. When the oestrogen level drops after menopause, women can lose up to 20% of their bone mass, increasing their risk of fractures.
To prevent osteoporosis, it’s recommended that you go for Bone Mineral Density (BMD) tests regularly. The test measures bone mineral amounts in different parts of your body such as the hip and spine. It helps to assess your risk of getting a fracture, allowing your doctor to recommend any treatment needed.
Screen for prostate cancer for men
On top of regularly screening for colorectal cancer, you should also go for regular prostate cancer screenings.
Besides age, you’re more likely to develop it if you have the following risk factors:
- Race or ethnicity — dark-skinned men have a higher risk
- Family history of prostate cancer
- A high-fat diet
- High testosterone levels if you use testosterone therapy
Some of the tests that you may do to screen for prostate cancer include the following:
- Digital rectal examination (DRA), which detects abnormalities in texture, shape, or size of the prostate gland
- Prostate-specific antigen test (PSA), whereby a blood sample is taken from a vein
Screen for other medical conditions
To ensure early detection, be sure to keep going for regular cardiovascular risks, diabetes, and other types of cancer screenings.
Regardless of your age, health screening is not something that you should put off. Even if you don’t experience any symptoms of a medical condition, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have it.
Essentially, health screening can help you detect medical conditions at its early stages. Not only can early detection and treatment result in better chances of recovery, but you’ll also get to save more money in the long run.