Man up, Take Charge!
Do you know what are the health screenings you should be doing? When was the last time you did your health screening? What should men your age be looking out for? If you find yourself having difficulties answering any of the above questions, read on.
Men, believe us when we say that you have got your priorities wrong: a survey conducted by Men’s Health Network and Abbott Laboratories in 2011 reveals that a shocking 70 per cent of men find it easier to care for their cars than their personal health.
In fact, some of these men may even be ignoring symptoms and some do not bother visiting a doctor for as long as six months to a year after experiencing symptoms of certain conditions.
Doctors we spoke to says that while there are more men coming forward and placing more emphasis on their health, the number still pales in comparison to women who are actively taking charge of their health.
Why the reluctance?
According to experts, it boils down to two words: laziness and nonchalance.
The worrying thing is that men are prone to chronic diseases. This is one of the reasons why men tend to die younger than their female counterparts – average life expectancy for men is 80 and women, 85, in Singapore, according to figures from World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2013.
So if you are one of those men who are guilty of neglecting your health, here are some common health problems you should look out for.
Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death. In fact, one in three deaths in Singapore are caused by cardiovascular disease. Statistics also show that men are more prone to heart disease and stand a higher chance of suffering from heart attacks earlier in life than women.
Apart from gender, lifestyle and age, family history also come into play. Some risk factors include high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity / overweight, diabetes mellitus, smoking, lack of exercise and stress.
Your risk increases if:
1) You are a male and above 45 years old.
2) Your father or brother had a heart attack before age 55 or your mother sister had one before age 65.
3) You have a close blood relative who had a stroke or Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA).
4) Your blood pressure is 149 / 90 mm of Hg or higher or you have been told that your blood pressure is too high.
5) You smoke or live or work with people who smoke every day.
6) You take more than two drinks of alcohol almost everyday.
While not all heart attacks come with obvious signs and symptoms, look out for discomfort or chest pain, shortness of breath or pain in the back, neck, jaw or shoulders. Always speak to a doctor if you are unsure.
Skin cancer ranks in as the eighth most common cancer among men and women in Singapore, according to the National Cancer Centre Singapore. Men are more likely to develop skin cancer due to higher sun exposure and fewer doctor visits, says Dr Paul Chia, Specialist in Dermatology & Consultant, Raffles Skin & Aesthetics Centre.
“Men are spending more hours in the sun than women, but are less likely to use sunscreen. Plus, men typically have less hair to cover the ears and scalp – two areas where they develop skin cancer more often than women,” explains Dr Chia.
There are two types of skin cancer: melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer – the former being the more aggressive type. In simpler terms, skin cancer refers to the cancer of the epidermis. The main cause of skin cancer is exposure to harmful ultraviolet radiations.
People who have fair skin that burns easily, work outdoors, or have a family history of melanoma are among the group of people who are at risk of skin cancer. Some symptoms include new moles, moles that increase in size, moles that bleed or itch, or a spot that becomes raised.
One of the simplest step to protect yourself against risk of skin cancer will be to apply sunscreen regularly – a step which only four per cent of men do daily, according to Dr John Renucci, a professor at Michigan State University.
(see Manhood at Siege, page 14)
Singapore men have a one in 37 chance of developing prostate cancer in their lifetime. By 2030, the number is expected to increase as one in five Singaporean residents will be aged 65 and above, says a report in The Straits Times.
This form of cancer affects the men and the cancer cells grow in the prostate – a gland in the male reproductive system. There might be no signs or symptoms for early stages of prostate cancer but some things to look out for can include: difficulty passing urine, passing urine more frequently than ever and a sense of not being able to empty the bladder.
Testicular cancer is one of the most common cancer afflicting men – with the most common age group being 18 to 39 years old. Men with family history of testicular cancer, Down Syndrome, or undescended testes at birth are also at risk.
The tumour growth typically begins in one or both testicles, which form part of the male reproductive system responsible for the production of testosterones and sperms. However, it is not all gloom and doom as testicular cancer is also one of the most curable cancers with a cure rate of 85 per cent and above.
Colorectal cancer is the number one cancer in Singapore, with male Singaporean Chinese being at higher risk among others. Risk factors include age and a strong family history of colorectal cancer. Screening should begin at 50 years of age. However, high-risk individuals should speak to their doctors to begin screening earlier.
Male Pattern Balding
“Many men start balding at some point in their 20s. Approximately 25 per cent of men begin balding by the age of 30. Onset of hair loss sometimes begins as early as the end of puberty, and is mostly genetically determined,” says Dr Chia.
Poor nutrition, limited food intake, and deficiencies in certain nutrients are some reasons which can cause thinning. These include deficiencies of biotin, protein, zinc and poor human iron metabolism. A diet high in animal fats (often found in fast food) and vitamin A is also thought to lead to hair loss, he adds.
MPB is responsible for the vast majority of hair loss in men. It is related to male hormones (androgens) and genetics. Men with MPB have affected follicles which eventually stop producing cosmetically acceptable hair.
Common hair loss problems include MPB, alopecia areata (round bald patches occur as a result of the body’s immune system attacking the hair follicle) and telogen effluvium (diffuse shedding of resting hair due to disturbance of the normal hair cycle). If you are experiencing balding, speak to a doctor.
“The most common misconception men have is that Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is part of ageing – it can happen in younger men,” warns Dr Lim Kok Bin, Specialist in Urology & Consultant, Raffles Urology Centre. ED, more commonly known as impotence, is a condition where the man is unable to develop or maintain an erection. Although ED becomes more common as men grow older, younger men aren’t entirely spared. The common causes include drug or alcohol use, or psychological problems such as stress and anxiety.
While women are more prone to mental illnesses such as depression, statistics and studies have repeatedly suggested that men are more likely to take their lives when undergoing depression and anxiety. The reason? They are least likely to seek help – men find it harder to open up about their problems and what they are going through because of societal expectations and notions of masculinity. Some common symptoms of depression can include: social withdrawal, inability to concentrate, easily irritable, angry, or frustrated, or prolonged period of sadness and guilt.
Why men die younger
• Over 115 men die of prostate cancer in Singapore each year
• Prostate cancer mortality rates are rising in Singapore
• Over 12 per cent of Singaporean men are obese
• Men are more likely to smoke than women, with about one in four men smoking compared to one in 27 women
• Testicular cancer occurs mostly among young men aged between 20 and 40 years old
• Researchers estimate that around one in five people in Singapore will suffer from anxiety and / or depression in the next 12 months
Death by nagging
In a study on 10,000 men and women aged 36 to 52, researchers found that men subjected to nagging, constant demands and worries from their partners are twice as likely to die young than those who are less henpecked.
Need more proof? Researchers also found that for every 100,000 people, 315 deaths were caused by spousal demands and worries. The lesson? Cut them some slack now and then.
Source: University of Copenhagen
5 FAQs about Health Checks
Dr Shirley Kwee, Resident Physician, Raffles Health Screeners answers your queries.
1. When should you start doing regular screening?
It is never too early or too late. However, it does become more important as you age or if you have significant family history and risk factors.
2. What kind of screenings should one go for?
Knowing your family history and risk factors helps to determine what type of medical tests you should go for. Different people require different types of screening.
For example, newborn babies will be screened at once for hearing loss, error in metabolism, as well as anemia for those born prematurely. Adults in general should screen for obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidaemia and diabetes mellitus, with additional tests catered for different genders. Elderly populations are focused more on cardiovascular disease, organ impairment and cancer detection.
3. How frequent should you go for a screening?
The frequency of the screening is determined by your profile and the condition that you are screening for. Speak to your doctor during your medical examination to determine the recommendation based on your risk factors. Your doctor will also advise you on how often you should follow-up on your condition.
4. “I’m healthy, fit, and have no known medical problems. Why bother?”
Even if you have no known medical problems, health screening helps to determine if you have a particular medical condition. Conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes mellitus or hypercholesterolaemia (high cholesterol) have no signs or symptom unless they are of late stage. These are conditions that have significantly better outcomes with good control and appropriate treatment. In addition, most cancers generally have better prognosis if they are detected early.
5. What questions should you ask your doctor?
“What type of screening should I go for based on my profile?” and “What additional tests do I need to go for based on my family history or risk factor?” Most health screening packages can always be tailored for your specific conditions. Do not hesitate to raise any medical concerns with your doctor.
TIP: Keep your health screening reports so that your doctors can quickly assess your medical history easily.