Essential Health Screening Tests for All Women
Whether you’re busy taking care of your family or juggling multiple priorities, every woman should make time for healthy habits. But it isn’t limited to eating right or getting enough sleep. You should also go for regular health screenings.
By looking after yourself, you can enjoy good health for many years to come, so you can focus on what matters.
Since your health changes as you age, here are the most important tests you should include in your preferred health screening package:
From 18 Onwards...
Blood Pressure Test for High Blood Pressure
More strain is placed on your arteries and heart when you have high blood pressure. “If your blood pressure remains uncontrolled, the arteries may suffer damage and weaken over time,” said Dr Michael Wong, Family Physician & Consultant, Raffles Medical. “Weakened or damaged arteries become less elastic and are more likely to clog up, which increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.”
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 80-89 mmHg or systolic blood pressure of 130-139 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.
Recommended Health Screening Package: Raffles Basic
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.
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 per cent of cervical cancers.
Recommended Health Screening Package: Raffles Deluxe
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 the most cases of carcinoma-in-situ and cervical cancer are preceded by the HPV infection. The HPV testing is suitable for women aged 30 years old and above.
Those who are tested positive for HPV would be referred to their gynaecologist for a more detailed cervical examination. If the results are negative, the test should be repeated every 5 years.
From Your 40s...
Fasting Blood Glucose Test for Diabetes
An unhealthy diet, an ageing population, and a sedentary lifestyle have caused the number of diabetics in Singapore to rise over the years. Diabetes is a silent and chronic disease. If not managed well, it can cause devastating complications such as blindness, nerve damage, kidney failure, heart disease and limb amputation. Studies show that about 50 per cent of all diabetics already have diabetes-related complications 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, which requires you to fast for at least eight hours beforehand. If you are an overweight young woman, have a strong family history of diabetes, lead a sedentary lifestyle or have a history of gestational diabetes or pre-diabetes, you may want to start getting screened earlier.
Fasting Lipid Blood Test for High Cholesterol
Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Getting your cholesterol levels checked becomes more important as you get older, as the risk of getting heart disease and stroke increases with age.
You should pay attention to these two types of cholesterol:
- Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL): Known as “bad” cholesterol, because too much of it in your blood causes arterial plaque, which reduces blood flow.
- High Density Lipoprotein (HDL): Known as “good” cholesterol, since it removes excess cholesterol and may prevent cholesterol build up in the blood vessels.
What constitutes as “healthy cholesterol levels” vary from person to person. Compared to a healthy person, someone at higher risk of stroke or heart attack will need to maintain a lower cholesterol level.
On average, a healthy person should have the following cholesterol levels:
- Total cholesterol: Below 200mg/dL or 5.2mmol/L
- LDL cholesterol: Below 130mg/dL 3.3 mmol/L
- HDL cholesterol: Above 40mg/dL or 1.0mmol/L
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
Recommended Health Screening Package: Raffles Executive (For Ladies)
From Your 50s...
Mammogram for Breast Cancer
In Singapore, breast cancer is the number one cancer among women. Fortunately, it is highly treatable if the disease is caught 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 mammography. 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 top cancer among Singaporean women. 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, and continue getting screened regularly thereafter.
You can screen for colorectal cancer in two ways:
Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)
This test checks your stool samples for hidden (occult) blood. Since the FOBT can only detect the absence or presence of blood in your stools, your doctor may request you to undergo a colonoscopy to determine the source of the bleeding if the FOBT is positive. You should do the FOBT annually.
It is currently the most accurate screening test for colorectal cancer. This test involves using a tube-like instrument with a tiny video camera attached at the tip to view the colon for abnormalities. It usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes. Abnormal tissues, such as polyps and tissue samples, can also be removed during the colonoscopy.
If there are no abnormalities, and you are not at high risk of colon cancer, you can repeat the test again every 10 years.
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 reaches the late stages, when most of the vision is irreversibly lost.
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.
Recommended Health Screening Package: Raffles Elite (For Ladies)
From Your 60s...
Bone Density Test for Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become brittle and less dense. This disease occurs when the creation of new bone does not keep up with the removal of old bone. 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 per cent of their bone mass five to seven 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 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. This test is recommended for women above 65 years old, or premenopausal women below 65 years old and are at risk of osteoporosis.
The test can be done on bones at different parts of your body. It measures the amount of bone mineral you have in the bones of a particular area. The results of the BMD test help your healthcare provider to assess your risk of having a fracture, and make recommendations to prevent or treat osteoporosis.
Recommended Health Screening Package: Raffles Platinum (For Ladies)
Reviewed by Dr Michael Wong, Family Physician & Consultant, Raffles Medical.