As women juggle home matters, caring for children and ageing parents, and performing well at their jobs within their homes, stress levels have rocketed.
Beyond pampering treats like an afternoon at a spa, other self care pursuits include journaling, practising yoga or meditation, getting a good night’s sleep and committing to a regular fitness routine.
However, scheduling regular health checkups is usually missing from this list. Some women fear uncovering abnormalities, others have the misconception that health checkups are only for older women. And many simply think: “But I feel fine.”
On the contrary, such medical assessments should be done way before you start feeling “off”. According to Dr Chia Yin Nin, obstetrician and gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital, most common diseases that are in the early stages, or when mild, are asymptomatic.
“By the time symptoms arrive, it might be too late for medical intervention to salvage a full recovery,” she cautions.
Ensuring early detection
In fact, Dr Esther Chuwa, a general surgeon specialising in oncoplastic breast surgery at Gleneagles Hospital, recommends regular health checks as “our health conditions change over time due to ageing and exposure to various environmental stressors.” Some conditions like cancer, she says, can develop in women even before they hit the age of 40.
According to a Singapore Cancer Registry Annual report from 2018, about one in five women diagnosed with breast cancer are below the age of 44. Compared to Western populations, where young women with breast cancer diagnosed below the age of 40 account for only four per cent of all diagnoses, young Asian women are at least three times as susceptible, with 14 per cent being diagnosed below 40.
While these are troubling statistics, the good news is most cancers are treatable, especially when caught early.
“Timely intervention not only reduces the 17 per cent fatality rate for breast cancer and complications from the disease, but the simpler treatments tailored for early-stage cancer are also more cost-effective,” says Dr Chuwa. “Sometimes the condition is discovered early enough for patients to adjust their lifestyles and undertake preventive strategies to avoid the onset of cancer.”
Watch out for these signs
Women above the age of 25 who are sexually active should begin regular screening for cervical cancer. Minimally, they should take a Pap smear or a human papilloma virus (HPV) test once every three years, if not annually. Both Dr Chia and Dr Chuwa recommend taking the HPV vaccine for protection against HPV infections that can cause cervical cancer.
A Pap smear is advisable every five years, at the very least. This should also start from the age of 30, or when you are sexually active (whichever is earlier) to ensure you’re in the clear from cervical cancer.
From the age of 30, women should also start getting themselves tested for breast cancer.
The monthly breast self-examination practice has been recommended by doctors for years, and for good reason. Take note: it’s best to do yours seven to 10 days after the start of your period. “This helps women to be familiar with how their breasts look and feel, so they can seek help should there be progressive change,” explains Dr Chuwa. “Breast cancer commonly presents as a palpable lump at this stage.”
Women in their 40s should schedule an annual mammogram, which can detect early stage cancer cells that do not cause symptoms, while women in their 50s and above should keep an eye out for colorectal cancer, on top of breast, cervical, and ovarian cancers.
To detect colorectal cancer, the second most common cancer among Singaporean women, Dr Chuwa recommends an annual Faecal Occult Blood Test, which checks for hidden blood in stools, and a colonoscopy for a more accurate diagnosis every five to 10 years.
On top of these protective measures, Dr Chia advises that a health screening should be scheduled. It includes general blood work, which can pick up chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, or kidney problems.
Early detection (especially important if you have a family history of such diseases), coupled with lifestyle changes, can go a long way in reducing your risk for more debilitating conditions down the road.
You are your priority
For Asian women, the concept of putting themselves first may still feel unfamiliar or uncomfortable, but it’s important to break that mental barrier.
It’s time to reframe the concept of a health screening. Consider it essential “‘me-time” – something you schedule as diligently as your favourite yoga class or mani-pedi session, for the maintenance of your physical and mental wellbeing.
Next, find the right healthcare partner able to provide a full range of healthcare services to suit your needs. At Gleneagles Hospital, for example, over 300 multidisciplinary specialists have been offering a suite of integrated health services for women, ranging from sexuality and fertility to hormonal, heart, and digestive health since 1959.
Dr Melvin Heng, its chief executive officer, says these offerings “cannot be replicated overnight”. He surmises: “We have built a strong team, delivering care using the latest techniques and therapies, tempered by an inheritance of experience of the many clinicians, nurses and healthcare workers that have committed themselves to the care of our patients.”
Finding the right healthcare partner ticks off one more box in your wellness checklist, since taking charge of your own health management is the ultimate form of self-care. When you’re confident of a clean bill of health, you will be mentally and physically better prepared for the challenges life offers you next.
To make an appointment for your next health screening, visit https://www.gleneagles.com.sg/live-your-best-life/personal-health.
Brought to you by Gleneagles