Man up, Take Charge!

Man consulting with doctor

76Do 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?

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 81.5 and women, 86.1, in Singapore, according to figures from Singapore Department of Statistics in 2020.

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

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 
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.

Prostate Cancer 
(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 
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 
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.

Erectile Dysfunction 

“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.

Other factors affecting men’s health

• Over 12 per cent of Singaporean men are obese.
• Men are more likely to smoke than women, with an estimate of one in four men smoking compared to one in 27 women.
• Unhealthy lifestyle habits such as lack of physical inactivity due to work/ family commitment or lethargic-ness. About two-thirds of adults with self-reported diabetes do not participate in physical activity during leisure time.
• Increasing mental disorders from the stresses of life. Based on the second Singapore Mental Health Study, one in seven Singaporean have experienced a mental disorder with the top three being major depressive disorder, alcohol abuse and obsessive compulsive disorder.