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What is Health Screening? Do we need to do it?

Introduction

Regular health screenings are important even if you feel perfectly healthy.

Screenings help find problems early on, when they may be easier to treat.

Health screenings help to detect potential diseases or health conditions even before any signs or symptoms arise. Screenings include medical tests, physical examinations or other procedures. This, combined with early diagnosis, prompt treatment and good control of the condition, allows the health problems to be treated more easily.

Why should we screen regularly, then?

While one-time screenings can only pick up health conditions during the time of screening, regular screenings can help detect conditions that may have developed after previous screenings.

Here are some recommended screening tests for the different age groups.

Table showing the recommended tests for different age groups Table showing the recommended tests for different age groups

Main pillars of screening

1. Chronic Disease

2. Cancer

3. Sudden Death

Chronic Diseases

What are Chronic Diseases?

Chronic diseases are simply diseases that will last for a long time (3 months or longer) after you get them. Although there is no cure, proper control of the disease can prevent the condition from worsening. They are typically not contagious and caused by lifestyle choices. Older adults are also at a higher risk of getting them.

Examples of Chronic Diseases

– Stroke

– Diabetes

– Cancer

– Heart Disease

– High blood pressure (Hypertension)

– High Cholesterol (Hyperlipidaemia)

– Obesity

– Fatty liver

How can I detect Chronic Diseases early?

Screening methods differ across various types of chronic diseases. Generally, you are encouraged to do two types of regular screening for chronic disease: General Screening (during routine physical exams with your doctor) and Specific Screening (separate tests will be performed to screen for specific chronic diseases).

A. General Screening

  • Risk Factor Screening
    – To detect if you have any of the risk factors that could lead to chronic conditions.

    Some risk factors include:

    • Raised blood pressure
    • Raised cholesterol
    • Raised blood glucose
    • Obesity
  • Discussing Lifestyle Choices
    – To check for any lifestyle choices that might make you more vulnerable to Chronic conditions, so they can give you more health advice.

B. Specific Screening (for common chronic diseases except cancer)

i. Diabetes
  • Glycated Haemoglobin (A1C) Blood Sugar Test
    – Reveals average blood sugar level from the past two to three months.
  • Random Blood Sugar Test
    – Reveals blood sugar level outside normal Diabetes testing schedule.
  • Fasting Blood Sugar Test
    – Reveals average blood sugar level after an overnight fast.
ii. Hypertension
  • Sphygmomanometer
    – An upper-arm cuff device that measures blood pressure.
iii. Hyperlipidaemia
  • Lipid Panel / Lipid Profile Blood test
    – A test that determines your cholesterol levels.
iv. Fatty Liver Disease
  • Liver Function blood test
    – To detect liver enzyme level and liver inflammation.
  • Ultrasound / magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) / computed tomography (CT) scans
    – If the first blood test reveals high enzyme level or inflammation, these scans will be done to detect the fats in the liver.
v. Obesity
  • BMI (Body Mass Index)

    – Height and Weight will be calculated to give a BMI value, which will indicate if you're underweight, healthy or overweight.

  • Waist measurement.

    – Excess fat around the waist can put you at an even higher risk for obesity-related health problems, like heart disease or Type 2 diabetes

Cancer

What is Cancer?

Cancer is a group of diseases characterised by uncontrolled cell division and spread of abnormal cells. While normal non-cancer cells die over time and are replaced by new ones, cancer cells do not die and instead, continue to grow and divide in an uncontrollable manner.

Examples of Cancer

  • Cervical Cancer
  • Breast Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Colorectal Cancer
  • Lung Cancer

How can I detect Cancer early?

Screening methods differ across various types of cancers. Generally, you are encouraged to do two types of regular screening for cancer: Self Screening (frequently) and Specific Screening (separate tests will be performed to screen for specific chronic diseases).

A. Self Screening

  • Look out for early warning signs of cancer:
    • A new lump on any part of your body, which may or may not be painful.
    • A sore or ulcer on your body that does not seem to heal.
    • Changes in size, shape or colour of a mole on your skin.
    • Abnormal bleeding, such as frequent nosebleeds or blood in your stools.

B. Specific Screening

i. Cervical Cancer
  • Papanicolaou (Pap) Smear Test
    – An examination of scraped cells from the cervix.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Testing
    – Similar to PAP Smear Test, but also checks for the presence of HPV.
ii. Breast Cancer
  • Mammography
    – The use of X-rays to examine the human breast for the detection of microcalcifications, which cannot be felt or seen by the naked eye.
  • Ultrasound of Breast
    – The use of sound waves to produce pictures of the internal structures of the breast for imaging.
iii. Ovarian Cancer* (only recommended for select high risk individuals)
  • Transvaginal Ultrasound
    • Procedure where doctors insert an ultrasound probe into the vaginal canal, to examine for any abnormalities in the female reproductive organs.
iv. Colorectal Cancer
  • Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)
    – Comes in a simple kit that can be done at home.

    – Detects colorectal cancer through the presence of small amounts of blood in stools.

  • Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)

  • Traditional Colonoscopy
    – A procedure in which a long, flexible tube is inserted into the large intestine through the anus.

  • Virtual Colonoscopy
    – Use of computed tomography (CT) scanning or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce 2 and 3 Dimensional images of the colon

  • Stool DNA tests. – Detects DNA from cancer or polyp cells, which usually have DNA mutations.

v. Lung Cancer* (only recommended for select high risk individuals or individuals who display symptoms)
  • Low-dose Helical Computed Tomography
    • Procedure using low-dose radiation to make detailed pictures of areas inside the body.
    • Recommended for individuals:
      • Above 50-60 years old with a significant smoking history.
      • Who experience weight loss, chronic cough or hemoptysis (coughing of blood).

Sudden Death

What is Sudden Death Syndrome?

  • Could occur in anyone, even seemingly healthy people.
  • Causes swift and sudden cardiac arrests, which could lead to death.
    • Can occur within as little as six hours of normal health.
  • May be the result of structural problems or irregularities in the heart.

Examples of Sudden Death Conditions

  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)
  • Acute Myocardial Infarction (AMI), otherwise known as heart attack
  • Fatal Arrhythmias
  • Intracranial Hemorrhage
  • Massive Stroke (cerebrovascular accident)
  • Massive Pulmonary Embolism
  • Acute Aortic Catastrophe

How can I detect Sudden Death Syndrome early?

A. Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)

Measures a person’s heart rhythm and electrical activity.

Screening for Symptoms:

B. Screening of AAA: Ultrasound.

C. Screening of aneurysm: MRA or CT 4 VA (for high risk individuals only).

Screening for AMI/ coronary artery disease:

D. ECG (very insensitive), CT coros, treadmill stress test.

Health screenings are hence especially important as there is currently no existing cure for most chronic diseases, cancers and causes for sudden death. Screenings will help to identify patients with a higher risk of the condition, allowing for interventional steps to be taken to reduce the likelihood of a fatal event.

For more information or if you require a medical consultation, please contact My Healthcare Collective here.