Female Body

Essential Health Screenings for Women

Important Health Screening Tests for All Women at Different Ages

In our fast-paced society, it’s easy to neglect our health when we choose to focus on other priorities. Whether you’re busy taking care of your family or building your career, you should always make time for healthy habits as they set the foundation for your other endeavours.

That said, being healthy is not just about eating right, exercising regularly, or getting enough sleep. You should also stay on top of your health by going for regular health screenings. This ensures that any health problems you may have are detected early, when they are the most treatable!

As your health changes when you age, here are a few important tests you should go for at different stages of your life:

From 18 Years Old Onwards

Blood Pressure Test for High Blood Pressure

You can start getting your blood pressure checked from the age of 18 onwards. Depending on your initial measurement, you may need to get it measured once every two years or once every year.

Your blood pressure reading consists of two components:

  • Systolic blood pressure (top number): Measures the pressure in your vessels when the heart beats.
  • Diastolic blood pressure (bottom number): Measures the pressure in your artery walls when the heart rests between beats.

Here’s a quick look at the different blood pressure categories and the corresponding blood pressure readings:

Systolic Blood Pressure (Top Number) in mmHG Diastolic Blood Pressure (Bottom Number) in mmHG Category
Below 130 Below 85 Normal
130 to 139 85 to 89 High normal
More than or equals to 140 More than or equals to 90 High blood pressure

You should get checked annually if you have a diastolic blood of 80 to 89 mmHg or systolic blood pressure of 130 to 139 mmHg. Those with higher blood pressure or at risk of major coronary risk factor, such as diabetes mellitus, may need to get screened more frequently.

From Your 20s…

Pap Smear for Cervical Cancer

Women who are sexually active, or those who had previous sexual encounters are at risk of being infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV) – a virus that causes pre-cancerous changes in the cervix that may develop into cervical cancer. According to a study, cervical cancer is ranked as the 8th most common cancer among females in Singapore. It is estimated that 429 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 208 die from the disease annually.

You can protect yourself from cervical cancer by getting a Pap smear once every three years from 25 years old onwards, or getting the HPV vaccination if you are 26 years old and below. The test is relatively painless. Cells are taken from the cervix and vagina to be examined for pre-cancerous lesions. Early treatment prevents up to 80% of cervical cancers.

From Your 30s…

HPV Testing for HPV Infection

In addition to the Pap smear, women in their 30s can also consider undergoing the HPV testing to identify cervical cancer-causing HPV strains (namely types 16 and 18). Recent studies have shown that most cases of carcinoma-in-situ and cervical cancer are preceded by HPV infection. This test is suitable for women aged 30 years old and above.

Those who are tested positive for HPV will be referred to their gynaecologist for a more detailed cervical examination. If the results are negative, the test should be repeated every five years.

From Your 40s…

Fasting Blood Glucose Test for Diabetes

An ageing population, having an unhealthy diet, and living a sedentary lifestyle have caused the number of diabetics in Singapore to rise over the years. According to statistics, the prevalence of diabetes in adults aged between 18 and 69 years in Singapore in 2010 is 8.3%. In 2017, this number rose to 8.6%.

Diabetes is a silent, chronic disease. If not managed well, the condition can deteriorate steadily to cause devastating complications such as blindness, nerve damage, kidney failure, heart disease, and limb amputation. Several studies have shown that about 50% of diabetics have diabetes-related compilations at the time of diagnosis.

You should get screened for diabetes at least once every three years. Testing involves a simple fasting blood sugar test. You will be required to fast for at least eight hours beforehand. If you are an overweight young woman, have a strong family history of diabetes, leads a sedentary lifestyle, or have a history of gestational diabetes or prediabetes, you may want to get screened earlier.

Fasting Lipid Blood Test for High Cholesterol

Based on statistics provided by MOH Singapore, there has been an increasing prevalence of high cholesterol (also known as hyperlipidaemia) among adults aged between 18 and 69 years with an increase of 25.2% in 2010 to 33.6% in 2017. Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke. Getting your cholesterol levels checked becomes more important as you get older. This is because your risk of getting these conditions increases with age.

You should measure your cholesterol levels once every three years if the initial cholesterol test is normal. You may need to start getting tested at a younger age if you:

  • Are at a higher risk of heart disease
  • Lead an unhealthy lifestyle
  • Have a family history of premature heart disease. This means you have family members with heart disease before age 55 (for men) or before age 65 (for women)
  • Have a strong family history of hypercholesterolemia

From Your 50s…

Mammogram for Breast Cancer

In Singapore, breast cancer is the number one cancer among women. In 2016, the incidence of breast cancer per 100,000 females is as high as 67.3%. Fortunately, it is highly treatable if the disease is detected early.

Besides doing a breast self-examination to check for any lumps, women should go for a mammogram annually from age 50. This is a low-powered X-ray test that gives an image of the internal structure of the breast.

Women aged 40 to 49 should speak to their doctor on the pros and cons of getting a mammogram. If you have a mother or sister who had breast cancer at a young age, your doctor may advise you to get screened more frequently, or at an earlier age.

Faecal Occult Blood Test or Colonoscopy for Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer among Singaporean women with an incidence rate of 27.3% per 100,000 females in 2016. Their risk increases after 50 years old. Like breast cancer, early diagnosis increases the chances of cure.

You should begin screening for colorectal cancer soon after turning 50 years old, and continue getting screened regularly thereafter.

You may need to get screened earlier or more frequently if:

  • You or a close relative had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer.
  • You have an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
  • You have a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch Syndrome.

Eye Examination for Glaucoma

Commonly known as the “silent thief of sight”, glaucoma is caused by increased pressure in the eye that leads to irreversible optic nerve damage. The initial vision loss in glaucoma is mainly peripheral and not obvious. As you get older, your central vision and reading are affected.

You may not experience any symptoms until the disease is in its late stages, when most of the vision is irreversibly lost. Statistics shows that glaucoma affects about 3% of those aged above 40 and this risk increases with age.

The risk factors for glaucoma include:

  • Age. Your risk increases as you grow older.
  • Chronic diseases. You are at increased risk of glaucoma if you have diabetes or high blood pressure.
  • Ethnicity. Asians are more susceptible to angle-closure glaucoma than Caucasians.
  • Prior eye injuries.
  • Family history of glaucoma.
  • Use of corticosteroids.
  • Inherently high pressure inside the eye.
  • Refractive error. People with myopia, or short-sightedness are at risk of open-angle glaucoma. On the other hand, people with hyperopia or long-sightedness, are at risk of closed angle glaucoma.

If you fall into any of the above risk categories, you may wish to include this screening test in your health screening package.

From Your 60s…

Bone Density Test for Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become brittle and less dense. Research has shown that 1 in 3 women over 50 years old suffers from osteoporosis. This disease occurs when the creation of new bone does not keep up with the removal of old bones. The bones become so weak that a fall or even simple activities such as bending over or coughing can cause a fracture. Osteoporosis-related fractures most commonly occur in the hip, wrist or spine.

Women are more prone to osteoporosis as they can lose up to 20% of their bone mass 5 to 7 years after menopause. “Oestrogen plays an important role in maintaining the bone strength in women,” explained Dr Wong. “When women reach menopause, their oestrogen levels decrease, and this accelerates bone loss.”

Besides age, these factors also increase your risk of osteoporosis:

  • Race. Caucasians and Asians are at higher risk of osteoporosis.
  • Family history. Having a family member with osteoporosis puts you at a higher risk of osteoporosis, especially if your mother or father experienced a hip fracture.
  • Body frame size. Those with small body frames tend to have a higher risk because they may have less bone mass to draw calcium from as they age.

The best way to diagnose osteoporosis is using a Bone Mineral Density (BMD) test, or the DEXA scan. It measures the amount of bone mineral in the bones of a particular area. This test is recommended for women above 65 years old, or premenopausal women below 65 years old, and are at risk of osteoporosis.

With various tests in different health screening packages, it may be difficult to find a suitable package. However, by having more knowledge of the various tests available, you can now narrow down your choices and select the ones that can meet your needs.

This post has been contributed by Raffles Health, a subsidiary of Raffles Medical Group. For more information on the different tests mentioned above, click here.

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