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What To Look For When Booking A Health Screening Package

October 5, 2017

Companies typically send their employees for annual health screenings, but are those enough? Are there specific tests you need to be taking? Are there tests you don’t need to be taking?

A recent report on Channel NewsAsia revealed that the Ministry of Health plans to tighten regulations on health screening services. In the report, Dr Desmond Wai Chun Tao, a gastroenterologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, opined that doing many different health screenings might be counter-productive.

He said, “Sometimes, doing more tests makes you worried, costs you more money … and they may not bring any health benefits. I have patients who come and see me because a health screening company goes down to a company to do a mass health screening for the employees, picks up some health results and posts the results and advises them to do certain things. But I notice that some of the tests are not necessary.”

HealthScoop speaks to Dr Jess Sidhu, a general practitioner with Dr Tan & Partners, to find out what we should consider before booking a health-screening package.

Q: What should we for look for in a clinic before booking a health screening? 

A: “Find out if packages can be tailored to your existing risk factors be it age, family history, your smoking or alcohol intake history or your sexual history. This is as opposed to signing up for a fixed health package, which might not address your concerns or that might be too excessive for you.

Ask if there would be a thorough full-body examination. Often, a head-to-toe examination is not conducted and physical clues of an early disease condition could be missed if the doctor fails to examine the patient thoroughly.

Check to see if the clinic/centre will go through the results with you in detail after the health screening, and if they have the capability to follow up on any abnormalities via treatment or medical advice. At many health-screening centres, patients often have their results emailed to them with very little explanation as to what the results mean.

If possible, try to stick to the same clinic for your health screenings so that they’ll be able to track the trend of your health performance.”

Q: Do you think there are particular health screenings that people can skip?

“Cancers markers are often not entirely necessary on health screenings, yet they are commonly offered in health screening packages. The problem with these cancer markers is that a positive test does not always equate to a cancer.

Take the cancer marker, Ca 125, for example. A highly elevated result is likely to correlate to an ovarian cancer. However, on numerous occasions, I have seen these levels elevated in perfectly healthy women. Mild elevation in these cancer markers levels often represent non-cancerous conditions such as a little fluid in the pelvic cavity or ovarian cyst or infections. This can cause unnecessary anxiety and undue stress in a patient.

How, then, do you choose what to screen for when it comes to cancers? This would ultimately boil down to your risk factors. For example, if you are a heavy smoker, it may be beneficial for you to have regular screening with a CT lung nodule scan to look for early cancers. Or, if you have a family history of colon cancer or polyps, ensure you regularly get tested for blood in the stools (via a faecal immunochemical test, also known as a FIT test) or regular colonoscopies as opposed to screening with a blood cancer marker.

The beauty of health screenings is to pick up conditions for which you do not currently have symptoms. That way, if you do have any conditions, you can manage it early. Take for example the current work rigour of most individuals –indoor deskbound jobs with minimal sun exposure. How many of these individuals are aware that they are Vitamin D deficient as a result of lack of sun exposure? That’s because Vitamin D deficiency does not necessarily present with symptoms but over time, it can increase your risk of bone weakness. However, a simple health screening can check to see if you are indeed Vitamin D deficient.”

Q: How often should we be going for health screenings?

A: “Frequency of health screening would depend on your age group and also the health condition being screened for. For example, women aged between 40 to 50 years old should have a mammogram done every year but after 50 years, it’s recommended to have it done once every two years. For women aged 25 and above, Pap smear for cervical cancer screening should be done once every three years.

For men and women aged 50 and above, they should aim to do a colorectal cancer screening once a year by means of a stool blood test.

For general blood screening looking at conditions like diabetes, cholesterol, and high blood pressure, a screening once every two years is adequate for both men and women.”