Navigating gender-specific health risks and screenings
July 2022   LIFESTYLE HEALTH

Navigating gender-specific health risks and screenings

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Navigating gender-specific health risks and screenings

When it comes to our health and wellness, the majority of us can readily point to various lifestyle factors like our diet and physical activity as the primary ways to achieve better health outcomes. It is undoubtedly true that many of the prevalent health conditions today are chronic diseases which can be prevented with healthier choices and lifestyle habits. However, there’s also another key part of prevention that cannot be overlooked: regular health screenings.

Undergoing routine screening exams at every stage of our lives can help us to catch any health problems as soon as possible to nip them right in the bud. A common misconception that many of us have is the belief that we are healthy just because we feel healthy, even though that is not always the case. Health screenings therefore offer a vital and foolproof method of helping us check for any diseases and conditions even when we may not display any visible signs and symptoms. In turn, this early detection can open the way to earlier, more effective treatments that are capable of turning the tide to achieve better health outcomes. 

Understanding gender-specific concerns

Before you arrange for your next screening appointment, be sure to familiarise yourself with the list of risk factors and conditions that you should look out for. Our health is inherently unique to ourselves because of varying behavioural patterns, lifestyle choices, family histories, and life experiences. But more than that is the fact that our anatomy, genetics, physiology, and hormones can also make us more sensitive to gendered health differences. With that said, we have put together a comprehensive profile of the most common concerns and the recommended screening tests for each gender to help you plan for your next appointments.

Common health concerns for men

In general, men are more susceptible to chronic diseases due to an increased risk that they face from common, underlying health conditions. These include hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity. A 2020 study conducted by the Ministry of Health (MOH) found that these conditions tend to occur with greater prevalence in men than in women1:

  • Hypertension affects 41% of men as compared to 30% of women
  • High cholesterol affects 43% of men as compared to 36% of women
  • 12% of men have obesity as compared to 10% of women

This means that chronic diseases are a bigger concern for men as well. For instance:

  • Men are 3 to 5 times more likely than women to have coronary heart disease2
  • Men usually have a higher risk of diabetes, with 11% of men experiencing it as compared to 8% of women3

Another major category of chronic disease that is growing in prevalence is cancer. The two types that men are at greater risk of are:

  • Colorectal cancer, which is a cancer that starts in either the colon or rectum and also happens to be the most common form of cancer in Singaporean men4
  • Prostate cancer, which is a gender-specific disease that only affects men

Based on these gender-specific risks, it may be useful to take greater note of the corresponding health screening tests to keep a close eye on the conditions that you may be prone to as a male. Here is a quick list for your reference:

  • Blood pressure and cholesterol tests
  • BMI measurements
  • Diabetes screening
  • Colonoscopies
  • Prostate-specific antigen blood screening (for men aged over 40 years old with a family history of prostate cancer, which affected a 1st degree relative under the age of 60)

Common health concerns for women

While men are generally at a greater risk of developing chronic diseases, there are a couple of health concerns that women should keep a lookout for. In Singapore, two types of cancer top this list of women-specific health risks:

  • Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in Singaporean women5
  • Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and affects the cervix6

In addition to the physical aspects of health, women are likely to deal with greater mental health concerns as compared to the opposite gender. If left unacknowledged and untreated, these mental health concerns can go on to affect their physical health, resulting in issues such as higher blood pressure.

The 2020 study conducted by MOH found that women tended to suffer from poorer mental health due to various societal, work-related, and familial stresses. Of the people surveyed, 15% of female participants cited poor mental health in comparison to 12% of the male participants. This can also compound with factors like age, with those in younger age groups experiencing a greater prevalence of mental health issues7.

With these risks in mind, keeping track of the following screening tests can help provide women with greater peace of mind:

  • Pap tests (for women aged between 25-29)
  • HPV tests (for women above the age of 30)
  • Mammograms (for women aged between 50-69)
  • Mental health screenings

Over to you

Good health underpins our ability to do the things that we want and to live how we desire. While setting up these health screening tests can seem like a hassle at first, taking the time to invest in our health can actually translate to exponentially greater benefits over the span of our lives.

To help you skip the confusion of putting together the screenings that are important for you, we have made a quick summary of recommended screening tests from Singapore’s Health Promotion Board.

Recommended for

To screen for

Screening test(s)

Frequency

Men and women aged 18 and above

Obesity

Body Mass Index (BMI)

Once a year

Hypertension (High blood pressure)

Blood pressure measurement

Once every two years or as advised by your doctor

Men and women aged 40 and above

Diabetes mellitus

Fasting blood glucose & HbA1c​​

Once every three years or as advised by your doctor ​

​Hyperlipidaemia (High blood cholesterol)

Fasting lipids & Non-fasting lipids

Men and women aged 50 and above

Colorectal cancer

Colonoscopy

​Once every five to ten years

Women between 25-69 years of age, who have had sexual intercourse

Cervical cancer

Pap test (for 25 to 29 years old)

Once every three years

HPV test (for 30 years old and above)

Once every five years

Women between 50-69 years of age

Breast cancer

Mammogram

Once every two years

Men aged 40 and above 

Prostate cancer

Prostate-specific antigen blood screening

Once a year if you have a family history of prostate cancer

 

Remember, the most effective health screenings are those tailored to your needs and informed by your doctor’s assessment after taking into consideration factors such as your age, gender, lifestyle habits, pre-existing diseases, and existing symptoms. If you have planned or are planning to head to your next health screening appointment, you are already on your way to achieving a more proactive health journey.

 

 

Sources:

1. Ministry of Health. (2020). National Population Health Survey 2020 (Household Interview and Health Examination).
2. Health Plus. (2018). How Heart Attack Signs Differ in Men & Women. Mount Elizabeth Hospital.
3. Ministry of Health. (2020). National Population Health Survey 2020 (Household Interview and Health Examination).
4. Lim, J. Health Screening: Top 5 Men's Health Concerns. Healthxchange.
5. HealthHub. (2022). Breast Cancer.
6. Chong, Y. (2021). Health Issues of Singaporean Women Over 40. Gleneagles Hospital.
7. Ministry of Health. (2020). National Population Health Survey 2020 (Household Interview and Health Examination).

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