Given the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it is easy to get caught up with the routines of work, catching up with friends, caring for the family members, and other commitments. With so much going on, we sometimes miss out on taking time to maintain our own health.
In this article, we share common screenings and vaccinations available for protection against common diseases, infections and even cancer.
The importance of regular screening
Just as our homes require tidying up and our cars need regular maintenance, our bodies should be treated the same with regular health screenings to detect any problems early. This way, treatment can be more effective, and can prevent the condition from worsening or leading to complications.
Conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension have been called "silent diseases" as they can occur with no obvious symptoms in their early stages. When left untreated, they increase the risk of serious medical conditions such as heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure.
This is why regular health screenings can play a big part in detecting these chronic conditions early, so the necessary lifestyle changes and/or medications can be prescribed to help manage the condition. During a screening, your doctor will check your blood pressure and collect blood samples to check for conditions such as diabetes (raised blood sugar) and high cholesterol.
Other screening options include:
- Cervical cancer screening
This is done by doing a Pap smear and/or HPV (human papillomavirus) DNA test.
- Breast cancer screening
It is recommended that women undergo regular screenings for breast cancer. Your doctor will be able to assess your risk factors and order a mammogram to check for abnormalities in the breasts.
- Colorectal cancer screening
This is done by collecting stool samples to check for the presence of blood or other abnormalities. Your doctor may then order a colonoscopy if further investigation is necessary.
- Osteoporosis screening
Your doctor will assess your risk factors and order a bone mineral density scan. This is similar to an X-ray examination to check the density of your bones.
Here is a table on recommended screenings and when to go for them:
1 For ladies aged 40 – 49 years old, discuss with your doctor regarding the benefits and limitations of going for a mammogram at this age. If deemed necessary, go for mammogram screening once a year.
2 Your doctor will assess your risk factors for osteoporosis and fractures; for post-menopausal women, the osteoporosis self-Assessment tool (OSTA) may help in the assessment.
The OSTA is a useful tool to support the assessment of a woman's risk for osteoporosis based on her age and weight. It helps to estimate the risk of osteoporosis and aids discussion on whether to order a bone mineral density scan.
Vaccination for protection
Other than protecting us from infectious diseases such as COVID-19, the flu and related complications, vaccinations also play an important role in protecting us from infections that can cause chronic illnesses and even cancer.
Here are some of the common, yet essential, vaccinations to consider:
Hepatitis A vaccination
Hepatitis A vaccination protects against the hepatitis A virus that can cause serious liver infection, and it is spread primarily through ingestion of contaminated food or water. In Singapore, the majority of reported hepatitis A cases were due to consumption of contaminated food from raw or partially-cooked cockles.
The virus is found in the faeces of infected persons, and can be transmitted through close contact with an infected person.
Hepatitis A vaccination is recommended for individuals at risk, including travellers to developing countries, or persons with underlying liver conditions.
Hepatitis B vaccination
Hepatitis B vaccinations protect against the hepatitis B virus which can cause chronic infection of the liver. It is transmitted from mother-to-child, sexually, and through transfer of contaminated blood or bodily fluids. Chronic hepatitis B infection has been identified as the cause of up to 80% of hepatocellular carcinoma cases worldwide. About 4% of adults in Singapore are Hepatitis B carriers.
Pneumonia is a serious lung infection, and is one of the top 10 causes of death in Singapore. Each year, some 380 people are hospitalised for invasive pneumococcal disease.
Getting a pneumococcal shot is an important step in preventing pneumonia, especially for seniors and those with chronic medical conditions such as heart conditions, chronic obstructive lung conditions, and diabetes because of their higher risk of complications from a lung infection.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine
It has been shown that vaccination against HPV can reduce the incidence of cervical cancer by nearly 90%.
Almost all cases (more than 95%) of cervical cancer are caused by HPV infections. It can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact such as sexual activity, by sharing contaminated sex toys, and very rarely, during delivery from an infected mother to her baby.
Although most HPV infections clear up on their own, there is a risk that the HPV infection becomes chronic and pre-cancerous lesions progresses to invasive cervical cancer.
Herpes zoster (shingles) vaccination
Shingles is a rash which erupts as painful blisters which can cause chronic complications such as nerve pain.
There are 2 types of shingles vaccines: a live one and a recombinant one which can help prevent shingles. The live one contains the weakened varicella-zoster virus, while the recombinant one does not. Adults aged 50 years and above should discuss with their doctor about the shingles vaccine, and getting 2 doses of the recombinant vaccine is 97% effective in preventing zoster.
This table includes some of the vaccinations for adults:
1 HPV-2 and HPV-4 Vaccinations: Recommended for ages 9 – 26 years old; HPV-9 vaccine can be used for age 9 – 45 years old
2 Pneumococcal vaccinations for adults aged 65 and older: PCV 13 followed by PPSV 23 one year later
3 1 or 2 doses of zoster vaccination depending on live or recombinant vaccine used
Speak to your doctor to find out which vaccinations you should be taking. It is useful to bring along your past vaccination records, and discuss with your doctor about any chronic medical conditions, health worries and risk factors.
In Singapore, you can utilise your MediSave to pay for recommended vaccinations under the National Adult Immunisation Schedule for specific target adult population groups at Parkway Shenton clinics.
Article contributed by Dr Wong Pei Ying, family physician at Parkway Shenton
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