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Woman, Get Tested!

Important screening tests every woman should do

edited 11197641_xxlHealth screening is designed for healthy individuals. A good number of health problems do not make you feel ill but can be detected by screening. Earlier detection allows for earlier intervention, thus preventing the health conditions from progressing and leading to complications that could significantly impact your quality of life in the future.

Screening is an important part of our care to continue to allow us to live a longer, healthier life. However, not all health conditions can be screened effectively. It is important for us to know which health problems are worth screening for. This article will outline for you some important screening tests that are currently available and recommended for every woman in Singapore.

Specific screening tests that have proven to help in reducing the incidence and death among women worldwide include tests for breast cancer and cervical cancer.

Breast Cancer Screening

Breast cancer is the most common cancer occurring in Singaporean women. It is also the biggest female cancer killer in the country. One in 16 women in Singapore is at risk for breast cancer, and the incidence of this serious disease has increased three-fold in the last 40 years. The good news is, breast cancer can be treated, especially if detected early.

If you are 50 years old or above, it is strongly recommended that you go for breast cancer screening. This involves going for a mammogram once every two years. Women between 40 and 49 years can also go for a yearly mammogram following recommendations by their doctors.

Being breast cancer-aware is another important part of the breast screening process. Monthly breast self-examination is something that you can do at your own convenience. If you feel any lump in your breast, you should seek advice from your doctor. If you are not sure how to do a breast self-examination or what to look for, your doctor can help you to do the test correctly and give advice on what to look for. Remember, not all breast lumps are cancerous, but all breast lumps should be examined by a doctor to rule out the possibility of cancer.

13640383_lCervical Cancer Screening

Cervical cancer is the 10th most common cancer in Singapore, but worldwide it remains one of the leading causes of death in women. Cervical cancer is unique because it is the only cancer in women that can be screened and treated, even before the cancer develops. Doctors are able to detect cells on the cervix that are at high risk of evolving into cancer cells, and treat it before the cancerous change occurs.

In order for your doctor to be able to detect these precancerous cervical cells, it is important that you go for cervical cancer screening regularly. Also known as Pap smear, this screening test involves gentle brushing of the surface of your cervix to obtain cells that can be sent to the laboratory to be examined for presence of pre-cancer cells. The test only takes a few minutes, and it can be done by either a nurse or a doctor.

Countries with a well-established cervical screening programme, such as the United Kingdom, have significantly reduced the incidence and death caused by cervical cancer. In Singapore, we have a national cervical screening programme called CervicalScreen Singapore. A Pap smear for cervical cancer screening only needs to be done once every three years.

It is strongly recommended that you go for your pap smear if you are between the age of 25 and 69 years old, or currently or have been sexually active in the past.

table 1

Source: Health Promotion Board, Singapore

If you have never been sexually active, you do not have to go for a Pap smear. However, if you have any unscheduled vaginal bleeding, it is recommended that you see your doctor to investigate this further.

If your Pap smear result comes back as abnormal, this usually means that pre-cancer cells have been detected. To confirm this, you will be required to undergo a colposcopy, and your gynaecologist will recommend the appropriate treatment.

There are also several proactive measures you can take to reduce your risk of having abnormal Pap smear or cervical cancer. These include limiting the number of sexual partners, preventing sexually transmitted infection by wearing a condom during sex, and stopping smoking.

We now know that cervical cancer is caused by a virus called Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV vaccination has been shown to greatly help to prevent the development of pre-cancer cells that can lead to cervical cancer. The best time to get vaccinated is when you are not sexually active yet. Women who are already sexually active can be vaccinated as well, but it is advisable that you consult your doctor first to see if you are suitable for the vaccine.

General Health Screening

Cancer is not the only condition that we can detect early or avoid in order for us to live a longer healthier life. In fact, there are other conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, to name a few, that are in fact more common than cancer. These non-cancerous conditions can also significantly affect your quality of life if left untreated or uncontrolled.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is one of the best gifts you can give yourself in order to keep these diseases at bay. Some of us may already have these conditions, but keeping active, eating healthy, as well as avoiding smoking and alcohol can help to stop these conditions from worsening and leading to more serious medical conditions in future.

Some of the important general health screenings that you should consider are shown in Table 1.

Family Matters

Not every screening is required for every woman. Some women are at higher risk of developing a particular disease or condition compared to others. For example, women who have a history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, womb cancer or bowel cancer in their immediate family may be at higher risk of developing these cancers themselves. Other hereditary conditions also include obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Make an appointment to see your doctor to discuss your risk of having these conditions and the possibility of screening for these conditions. As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” So why not go for appropriate regular screening tests to ensure a better, healthier quality of life?

Dr Ida Suzani Ismail-Pratt is an Associate Consultant at the National University Hospital Women’s Centre.
Posted by ezyhealth on Mar 5 2014. Filed under Medical Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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