The following article was written by Amy Greenburg for the November 2021 issue of Expat Living Singapore.
Here are three things men can do to maximise their health, according to the experts.
#1 Get a colonoscopy
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men (and the second in women) worldwide, with the highest rates found in more developed countries. In Singapore, it’s the most common type of malignancy in males , wi th 9,320 new cases diagnosed between 2010 and 2014, says DR DENNIS KOH, senior consultant and colorectal surgeon at StarMed Specialist Centre.
“Colorectal cancer typically develops from non-cancerous growths, called polyps, that grow in the lining of the large intestine,” he says.“ From the moment they develop, it can take up to five to ten years for these non-cancerous growths to turn cancerous.”
The good news is that these polyps can be detected and removed during a colonoscopy screening, thus preventing the development of cancer.
Done under sedation, colonoscopy is a quick outpatient procedure in which a thin, flexible tube with a fibre optic camera is inserted into the rectum, allowing for the detection of polyps, ulcers and other conditions. It also allows for a biopsy, and on-the-spot removal of benign and potentially pre-cancerous polyps.
Recent studies show that many people – even those with an increased risk – choose to forgo colonoscopy screening out of fear of pain or discomfort. The truth is, there’s no discomfort felt during or after the procedure, says Dr Koh. The only possible “discomfort” is the colonoscopy prep, which involves drinking a laxative solution to empty the bowels prior to the procedure.
In Singapore, colonoscopy screening is recommended from the age of 50 years for adult men and women with a normal risk profile. Many countries, including the US, are recommending even earlier starts, at the age of 45, says Dr Koh.
#2 Discuss prostate screening with your doctor
Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers among males worldwide and is the second most common cancer for men in Singapore, just behind colorectal cancer.
Located below the bladder and in front of the rectum, the prostate is a walnut-sized gland. It’s part of the male reproductive system that produces secretions to protect sperm, explains DR LEE FANG JANN, senior consultant and urologist at StarMed Specialist Centre. Prostate cancer, he says, occurs when cells grow abnormally in the prostate. Risk factors include being over 50, having a family history of the disease, eating excessive amounts of red meat and being of African-American descent.
Although most prostate cancer cases are diagnosed between the ages of 65 and 70, Dr Lee says it’s a good idea for men to discuss screening with their doctors from the age of 50, as this cancer type is usually asymptomatic in the very early stages. Therefore, it can be worth your while going for a check-up even if you don’t have symptoms. Later-stage symptoms include getting up at night to urinate, problems with stopping or starting urination and blood in the urine. For men with a family history of prostate cancer, Dr Lee recommends screening from the age of 45.
Unlike many other cancers, there’s a simple Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test that can screen for prostate cancer in the early stages when the disease is still asymptomatic. An elevated PSA level is often the first sign of prostate cancer, says Dr Lee.
Additionally, a prostate cancer screening involves a rectal examination to check for any suspicious bumps or nodules. Though this may sound unpleasant, it’s quick and safe, and can save your life!
“Screening will give you the best chance of detecting prostate cancer at an early stage when treatment success and cure rates are at their greatest,” says Dr Lee.
#3 Take care of your heart
As coronary artery disease (CAD) is the top-killing disease in the world, it’s obviously vital to do what we can to prevent it. And, there’s more you can do to minimise your chances of a heart attack or stroke than leading a healthy lifestyle. Regular cardiovascular screenings can detect CAD in its early stages when there are no symptoms – thus helping to prevent or even cause regression of the disease, says DR PETER TING, medical director and cardiologist at StarMed Specialist Centre.
What does cardiovascular screening entail?
Diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, poor sleep, excess alcohol, obesity, extreme stress and poor diet are all factors that put someone at a higher risk of CAD. So, essential to the screening process is identifying the presence and number of risk factors an individual has. A risk assessment – which includes a discussion of one’s medical history, physical examination and blood tests – allows for early preventative interventions, which may include lifestyle changes and, potentially, medication. This can be done as early as 18 to 20 years old, says Dr Ting.
Also key to cardiovascular screening is an evaluation of the blood vessel health. Heart attacks are caused when the arteries become severely narrowed, leading to loss of blood supply to the heart muscle. Imaging modalities that can reveal the presence of asymptomatic narrowing in the arteries can be an invaluable pre-emptive step. Dr Ting advises men to consider having imaging tests done between the ages of 40 and 50 – and women between the ages of 50 and 60.
“Traditional non-invasive ways to check for significant narrowing of the coronary arteries include an ECG and treadmill tests. These are simple and relatively inexpensive to do, but have lower accuracy, particularly in picking up blockages at an earlier stage,” he says. A coronary angiogram, however, allows direct imaging of the coronary arteries and even reveals the degree of narrowing that’s occurring.
Of course, a cardiologist should be consulted to find out which test is most suitable for you and your risk profile, if and when you need to repeat those tests, and what the results mean for you.
StarMed Specialist Centre
12 Farrer Park Station Road
6322 6333 | starmedspecialist.com