Women’s health: The six essential health checks all women in Singapore need to do

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Women of Singapore, I think we can all agree that now we’ve tried juggling the whole crazy act of marriage (or doing it solo), work (and hell yes being a SAHM is work), parenting and trying to keep our own sanity, it’s dawned upon us that if we don’t start looking after ourselves properly, how can we be expected to take care of anyone else? But without wishing to sound preachy, and because it’s World Health Day, we say it’s time to take care of ourselves by making room in our busy schedules to stop and take check of how we’re really feeling – both emotionally and physically – and get ourselves booked in for some crucial health examinations. But aside from the big ones we all know about, namely PAP smears and breast exams, what are the other essential health checks we should be ticking off our list? We got some advice from Dr Foong Tsin Uin of IMC on the six essential health checks for women we should all be scheduling in our diaries…

Dr Foong, what’s the one piece of advice you would give women to remind them that their health is a priority?
You need to look after yourself in order to look after everyone else around you! We recommend a regular health screenings which can pick up early signs of a condition, and often can be treated successfully when detected early. We recommend that women come in for one of our IMC Health Screenings(we offer both basic and more holistic options) for peace of mind. The other thing to mention is that we find women in Singapore wrongly believe that they need to go to see a gynecologist for many of their female check ups (PAP smear, contraception etc) but actually GPs are trained to carry out these tests too.

Are there any particular symptoms women should approach their doctor with for immediate health screenings?
Breast lumps (non cyclical– that is, not related to menstrual cycle) should always be investigated, as should any vaginal bleeding after a woman has been through the menopause.

The Big Six
1. PAP smear test
We all know that this is a must. Cervical cancer is a killer – but catch it in time and your chances of a full recovery skyrocket. Get checked every three years from age 25, or once sexually active. You don’t have to see a specialist for this: just pop to your GP for an easy-peasy test that could save your life.

2. Breast cancer screening
Whilst it is advisable to check your breasts for changes, lumps and bumps on a monthly basis at home, once you are age 50 then it’s wise to see your doctor for full breast cancer screening (usually an ultrasound or mammogram). If you have a family history of breast cancer, then screening is best carried out every year from age 40.

3. Cardiovascular disease risk screening
Exercise and a good diet are essential for keeping your heart strong and healthy, but general advice is to get yourself screened every one to two years to make sure your ticker is ticking along nicely. 

4. Colorectal cancer screening
If you’re over the age of 50 then it’s time to start getting checked annually with a Faecal Immunochemical test (FIT) – trying saying that after a glass of wine – which will give early indications of cancer if present, and you should also book a colonoscopy every five years. Colon cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, second only to breast cancer and even if the idea of these tests have you squirming, a little embarrassment could just save your life.

5. Sexual transmitted diseases (STD) screening
There are no current guidelines for screening frequency, but you know your sexual history better than anyone. Not only can sneaky STDs be symptomless for years, but discover them too late and you run the risk of your fertility being compromised if left undiagnosed and untreated. It’s always better to be safe than sorry: get yourself checked for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes, syphillis and HIV and pat yourself on the back for owning your sexual confidence.

6. Skin check
Whether you are a sunbathing goddess or prefer to lurk around in the shade, the fact remains that Singapore is REALLY sunny. No matter how diligent you are with your sun protection precautions, those rays are still going to get through. If you notice any changes to moles or find skin pigmentation changes happening (especially if you are fair skinned) then get yourself checked without delay.