Remember that a good health screening does not mean testing for the most number of conditions or diseases. It should only contain relevant tests and not tests that are unnecessary.
When planning to go for a health screening, we are often inundated with a barrage of choices – which tests to do, which screening package to choose from, or how comprehensive it should be. You might think that the more tests are done, the better it is, since more conditions will be screened for. However, this is not necessarily true.
Doing more tests than is necessary may make you more worried, incur unnecessary costs, and result in overdiagnosis and overtreatment. As such, unnecessary tests may not be beneficial and may even result in harm. Therefore, how do you decide which screening package is best for you?
Health screening should be tailored to you
Health screening packages should be tailored according to your needs and requirements. It is erroneous to suggest that there is a one-size-fits-all health screening package. Each individual has different characteristics and medical history, and hence, may benefit from different screening tests.
To find out which health screening package is best for you, you should speak to your doctor to discuss what tests and procedures should be included. Your doctor will make a recommendation based on several patient characteristics, in particular, age, gender, any symptoms, exposure to risk factors, past medical history and family history of any medical conditions.
Conditions you should screen for
As per Singapore Ministry of Health (MOH) and Health Promotion Board guidelines, all health screenings should evaluate for cardiovascular risk factors which are
- Obesity – evaluated with body mass index based on height and weight
- Hypertension – evaluated with blood pressure
- Diabetes mellitus – evaluated with fasting blood test
- Hyperlipidemia – evaluated with fasting blood test
MOH also recommends screening for other diseases such as:
- Colorectal cancer in individuals aged 50 years and above. This is done either using a stool test to check for traces of blood or a colonoscopy.
- Cervical cancer in women aged 25 – 69 years and have had sexual intercourse. This is done via a Pap smear, a procedure involving collecting cells from the cervix.
- Breast cancer in women aged 50 – 69 years. This is done via a mammogram – an x-ray picture of the breasts.
- Prostate cancer in men with high risk (those who are above 50 years old, with a history of immediate family members who have had prostate cancer and are below 60 years of age). This is done via a digital rectal examination (DRE) and blood test.
- Liver cancer in persons with chronic hepatitis B infection or liver cirrhosis (late stage scarring of the liver). This is done via a blood test and ultrasound of the liver.
- Hepatitis B in pregnant women, healthcare workers, and persons at high risk including those with a family history of hepatitis B infection or liver cancer, or those who engage in high-risk behaviour (sex with commercial sex workers or strangers, multiple sex partners, sex partner with hepatitis B infection, men who have sex with men (MSM), drug addicts who share needle). This is done via a blood test.
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in persons at risk. This is done via blood tests and by obtaining tissues from the lining of the cervix in women and from the urethra in men.
- Osteoporosis in persons with risk factors. This is done via a bone mineral density (BMD) test which uses x-rays to measure the amount of minerals in the bones.
There are a multitude of other tests available, and you should speak to your doctor to see if they are relevant or recommended for you. Remember that a good health screening does not necessarily mean testing for the most number of conditions or diseases. A good health screening offers the relevant tests only and not tests that are unnecessary.
The screening experience matters
What makes a health screening good is also the experience.
Your health screening should be conducted in a comfortable environment with no invasion of privacy. Waiting time should be minimal so that you do not feel nervous and uneasy, as this may affect some of the results such as the blood pressure and heart rate.
Tests should be painless and non-invasive, and the staff should be congenial yet professional. Results should be fast and accurate, and a doctor should also spend time to explain the results, clarify any doubts, and give necessary treatment advice.
Find out more about health screening packages to choose the right one for you!
Article contributed by Dr Edwin Chng, medical director at Parkway Shenton, One Raffles Quay