Cancer screening is an essential part of health maintenance.
If and when detected early, most cancers can be treated into remission or even cured.
It makes a huge impact on life expectancy and quality of life.
Here’s a guide to when and how you should screen for cancers.
1. Nasopahryngeal Carcinoma (Nose Cancer)
Please go get yourself tested if you are:
– Chinese man above 40 years old
– Have 2 or more relatives with nose cancer
A simple screening for Nose Cancer involves an inexpensive blood test known as EBV IgA. For patients at higher risk, they may need a scope put up the nose. Don’t worry, the doctor will numb your nose before the procedure and you will not feel a thing.
2. Colorectal Cancer (Colon Cancer, Large Intestine Cancer)
Please go get yourself tested if you are:
– Above 50 years old
– Have a close relative diagnosed with Colon Cancer or Colon Polyps
– Have had cancer of the womb, ovary or breast
Screening for Colorectal cancer involves a simple test of your stool for occult (hidden) blood. For patients at higher risk, they may need a colonoscope. Again, please don’t let this scare you. You will be sedated throughout the procedure and will not feel a thing. The other good thing about colonoscopes is the surgeon can identify and remove polyps. Polyps are precursors of cancer so removing polyps is essentially curing you of cancer.
3. Lung Cancer
This is a tough one.
Screening for lung cancer, be it via X-Rays or CT Scans have not been shown to improve life expectancy.
In other words, once a person finds out he has lung cancer, be it early or late, there is very little the medical profession can do to prolong his life. Treatment will be more directed at amelioration of symptoms.
So the best thing to do is DO NOT SMOKE.
4. Liver Cancer
Please go get yourself tested is you have:
– Chronic Hepatitis B Infection
– Hepatitis C Infection
– Liver Cirrhosis
You do not need to screen for liver cancer if you do not have any of the above.
But everyone should make sure they are adequately protected against Hepatitis B.
All Singaporeans are vaccinated against Hepatitis B during childhood. But the protection might have worn out by adulthood. Go see your doctor for a blood test to see if you need Hepatitis B vaccine boosters.
Screening for Liver Cancer involves a blood test for alpha-fetoprotein and an ultrasound scan of the liver.
5. Breast Cancer
This is the most common cancer among women in Singapore.
Screening for Breast Cancer is essential as an early diagnosis can lead to much improved life expectancy.
First of all ask yourself the following:
– Do any of your close relatives have breast cancer?
– If so, where any of them diagnosed under the age of 40 years?
– Do any of your close relatives have cancer of the colon or ovary?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, please consult your doctor as to when and how you should screen for Breast Cancer.
If not, you need to do the following:
– Monthly breast self-examination from the age of 30 years
– Screening mammography once a year from the age of 40 years
6. Cervical Cancer
Cervical Cancer screening is so effective because Cervical Cancers can be picked up even before the cancer appears. This gives doctors a chance to treat the patient and prevent the cancer before it even starts.
Cervical Cancer is screened by PAP Smears. Your doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina and take a sample of cells from your cervix. The test might be slightly uncomfortable but is not painful.
Ask your doctor about using the ThinPrep technique for more accurate results.
Protocols for testing:
– You do not need a PAP Smear if you never had sexual intercourse
– You should get PAP Smears once every 3 years if you ever had sexual intercourse
– You do not need PAP Smears if you are above 69 years old
– You should get PAP Smears every year if you are HIV positive
There are currently 2 very effective vaccines against Cervical Cancer. They are strongly recommended in Singapore for all women between 9 years and 26 years old. Ask your doctor about the Cervical Cancer vaccine.
*Even after getting the Cervical Cancer vaccine you still need to go for PAP Smears according to the above protocols*
7. Prostate Cancer
Prostate Cancer is the 3rd most common cancer among men in Singapore.
Go get yourself tested if you are above 50 years old.
Screening for Prostate Cancer involves a blood test for PSA. The doctor will also examine your prostate via your rectum.
That’s it folks. Please take control and get yourself screened for cancer if you fall into any of the above categories.
Please remember that these are only guidelines and it is still better to have an in-depth discussion with your doctor on your personal risk factors and what tests you should do and when.
For more detailed information, please visit Singapore Ministry of Health’s site on Cancer Screening at:
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About Dr. Tan
Dr. Tan graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2001. His residency was in the two largest public hospitals in Singapore; Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Singapore General Hospital.