Your Guide to Health Screening Tests in Singapore
Getting the correct health screening tests or package is tricky business.
If you do a quick search about this topic on the Internet or forums, you will often see questions like this:
“Which health screening tests do I need, and which package will you recommend?”
With the number of health screening packages available at different price points out there, it may be confusing to know which package or tests suit your needs and your budget. You’ll also need to consider your age, gender, and your family medical history.
Don’t worry – Dr Michael Wong, Deputy Medical Director, Raffles Medical, shares more on the different tests you may need:
- Health Screening Tests: The More the Better?
- Essential Diseases to Test For
- Other Health Screening Tests to Consider
- Specialty Health Screening Packages
Health Screening Tests: The More the Better?
While you may want to get screened for every single disease using all available screening tools to get a “clean bill of health”, don’t. Not only will that burden your wallet needlessly (since additional screening tests will cost more), some tests – like cancer markers – may produce false positive results, which may create unnecessary alarm for you.
“You should always understand the tests that are included before choosing a health screening package. If you have specific health concerns or a strong family history of certain diseases, discuss them in advance with your doctor, who will assess and advise you on the right screening package to get,” said Dr Wong. “This way, you can be assured that you are screened for the appropriate diseases using the necessary tests.”
Returning for a post-examination review with your doctor after getting your health screening results is also equally important. Your doctor can help interpret your health screening results, address your concerns and advise you what to do next.
Essential Diseases to Test For
Regardless of which health screening package you choose, make sure it tests for these diseases:
One in three Singaporeans are at risk of developing diabetes. While not fatal, undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes can lead to heart disease, blindness and other disabilities. You can check for diabetes with a fasting blood sugar level test, which requires you to fast for eight to 10 hours prior.
High Cholesterol (hyperlipidemia)
Too much cholesterol in your body can narrow your arteries and increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. You can get a fasting lipids blood test to measure your cholesterol levels. Like the blood sugar test, you’ll need to fast eight to 10 hours before your test as well.
High Blood Pressure (hypertension)
Left undetected and uncontrolled, high blood pressure can damage your body over time, eventually causing heart diseases, stroke and kidney failure. Most health screening packages will include the blood pressure test.
Your BMI is a good indicator of obesity. Obese people are at higher risk of developing diseases, such as diabetes, high cholesterol (hyperlipidaemia), hypertension as well as certain cancers. By keeping your BMI in the healthy range, you will also reduce your risk of such diseases.
Colorectal Cancer (for adults aged 50 and above)
The top cancer among men and the second most common among women, colorectal cancer is usually tested using the Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) or Faecal Immuochemical Test (FIT). Your stools will be tested for hidden blood, which is a possible indicator of colorectal cancer. If your test turns out positive, your doctor may order for extra tests, such as a colonoscopy, to confirm the presence of colorectal cancer.
Breast Cancer (for females aged 50 and above)
Breast cancer is the top cancer among women. All women are at risk of getting breast cancer, and the chances of developing it increases with age. Your risk increases if you are aged 50 or older, or have a family history of breast cancer.
A mammogram is done to screen for breast cancer. It detects for microcalcifications in your breasts, which are tiny dots of calcification seen in early breast cancer. To confirm the results, your doctor may order for additional imaging tests or a biopsy that involves removing some of your breast tissue for analysis.
Cervical Cancer (for females)
Tested using a pap smear, cervical cancer is highly treatable if detected early. Your doctor will collect cell samples from your cervix to examine for any abnormalities. All sexually active women aged 25 and above should get a pap smear done once every three years.
Other Health Screening Tests to Consider
Some may prefer getting a holistic view on their health by going for a full body check-up instead.
“For those preferring comprehensive health screening packages, I usually advise them to ensure the package they choose screens for three components: chronic diseases, cancers, and certain infectious diseases,” said Dr Wong.
Here are some additional tests found in more comprehensive health screening packages, or available as optional add-on tests that you can consider including:
Hepatitis A and B Screening Tests
Hepatitis A is a viral infection that causes the liver to become enlarged, inflamed and tender. The virus is excreted in faeces, and transmitted through contaminated food and water.
On the other hand, hepatitis B is a more serious liver infection. People with hepatitis B are also at a higher risk of developing liver cancer. It is spread through direct contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person. In Singapore, around 1 in 35 adults are hepatitis B carriers. If you are not a carrier and are found to be free of hepatitis B after screening, consider getting vaccinated to protect yourself from this disease.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) Tests
Commonly encountered STIs include gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and the human immunodeficiency virus. If you have multiple sexual partners, frequent high risk sexual encounters or are experiencing genital discharge, rashes, ulcers, you should get screened for these infections.
Complete Blood Count
This test measures the composition of red blood cells, white blood cells, haemoglobin, and platelets in your blood. It evaluates your overall health and detect a wide range of disorders, including anaemia, infections and leukaemia.
Kidney Function Tests
These tests assess your kidney function by measuring the level of urea, creatinine (waste products) and certain dissolved salts such as sodium and potassium bicarbonate in your blood and urine.
Liver Function Tests
These tests are useful in diagnosing liver disease or monitoring liver damage by measuring the levels of certain enzymes and proteins in your blood. Some tests also measure the performance of your liver in producing protein and clearing bilirubin, a type of waste produced by your blood.
Thyroid Function Tests
Thyroid hormone tests assess your thyroid gland function. The thyroid gland creates hormones such as thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which regulate the way your body uses energy and affect your metabolic rate.
A urinalysis is a urine test to detect and manage a wide range of disorders, such as urinary tract infections, kidney disease and diabetes. It involves checking the appearance, concentration and content of your urine.
Uric Acid Level Test
A high uric acid level in your body may increase your risk of gout or kidney stones. Uric acid is produced during the breakdown of purines, which are created in your body and found in certain foods. Once produced, it is carried by your blood and passes through your kidneys, which is eventually filtered out as urine.
Bone Mineral Density (BMD) Test
This is a painless and non-invasive procedure that measures your bone calcium to detect early loss of bone mass, and evaluates your risk of developing osteoporosis.
While older people above 65 years old are more likely to develop low bone mass and osteoporosis, these can happen to younger people too. BMD testing is especially important for people at higher risk of osteoporosis, such as:
- People with low body weight
- People above 65 years old
- People with personal history of fractures
- People on long term steroids
- Women who had menopause before 45 years old
Speciality Health Screening Packages
Rather than a full-body checkup, people who are aware that they are at a higher risk of certain diseases may choose to go for tests or packages that screens for factors that contribute to specific diseases or health risks. You will find most healthcare institutions offering these tests by themselves, or as part of a specialised health screening package:
A typical heart screening package screens your body for risk factors that contribute to various heart diseases, such as:
- Heart health
- Cholesterol levels
- Blood pressure
- Blood glucose levels
Most packages comes with a consultation with a heart specialist instead of a general physician. The heart specialist can give an in-depth evaluation of your heart screening results, and better help you manage your heart health.
Sports Screening for Athletes
Likewise, people who frequently take part in endurance sports may have an increased risk of damaging their body in the long run. A pre-participation sports screening evaluates your body for such risks, as well as signs of injury from overtraining.
Knowing about your health status helps you to develop a training plan that helping you meeting your fitness goals, while meeting your health needs and minimising the risk of injury.
Which Health Screening Package Suits You Best?
With the number of health screening tests in a health screening package, it may be challenging to find one that has what you need.
So, what are the possible options?
“Depending on your budget and your personal medical history, you can get a basic health screening package containing the essentials, and add on other necessary tests at an additional cost,” said Dr Wong. “Or, you can get a comprehensive package containing most of the tests you need and is within your budget.”
Based on how you configure your health screening package, one option may be more cost-effective over the other.
Choose the one that makes the most economical sense, while not compromising on what you need.
Dr Lee Yian Ping, Specialist in Cardiology & Consultant, Raffles Heart Centre