Many women find themselves juggling multiple roles as they get older - as mothers, caregivers, breadwinners and partners. It's easy to get caught up in a busy schedule, but with age and the stresses of everyday life, the chances of developing a health complication increases.
By putting off a routine health screening, some women risk having an existing medical condition go undetected.
A national survey conducted by the Ministry of Health last year found that more Singaporean women aged 30 and above have been diagnosed with late-stage cervical cancer. However, it also found that there were no improvements in the uptake of cervical cancer screening among Singaporean women.
That is a worrying trend, says Dr Ting Hua Sieng, obstetrics and gynaecology specialist at Parkway East Hospital.
"The chances of a smooth and early recovery from a health condition are better when one opts for a regular health screening, or seeks medical help as soon as symptoms are observed," she explains.
Heed the warning signs
Prolonged menstrual periods, urinary issues and changes in bowel habits are some examples of symptoms that should be addressed by a medical specialist.
Dr Ting, along with Dr Lim Siew Kuan, Dr Natalie Chua and Dr Lubna Bte Ahmad Harharah from Parkway East Hospital (PEH), share what other red flags to take note of, and offer advice on managing more common health issues among women.
1. Breast cancer
According to the Singapore Cancer Society, close to 2,000 women here are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and one in 13 women in Singapore will be affected by the disease.
Women who are aged 50 and above, or have a family history of breast cancer, are at a higher risk of developing it.
"You should do a self-examination of your breasts once a month to check for lumps or other abnormalities. Women aged 40 and above should discuss mammogram screening with their doctors, while women aged 50 and up should go for a mammogram every two years on top of doing a monthly self-examination," says Dr Lim Siew Kuan, consultant breast surgeon.
"There are usually no symptoms during early stages of breast cancer. However, if you discover unusual signs such as a painless lump, a persistent rash, bleeding or discharge from the nipple, and dimpled or puckered and folded skin around the breast area, you should see a specialist immediately."
2. Cervical cancer
Cervical cancer - the 10th most common cancer in women here - is an abnormal growth that forms in the cervix due to a Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection. This sexually-acquired infection can usually be prevented if one opts for an HPV vaccination, which helps to prevent infection of the cancer-causing HPV strains.
Dr Natalie Chua, obstetrics and gynaecology specialist, advises: "The HPV vaccination is recommended for females aged nine to 26 years old, and ideally before their first sexual encounter. However, women who are older or are sexually active can consider the vaccination as well, as they may not have been exposed to the HPV strains covered by the vaccine."
She notes that early cervical cancer has no symptoms. In its later stages, however, the disease can manifest in afflictions such as prolonged vaginal bleeding and abnormal bleeding from the vagina after sexual intercourse or in between periods.
3. Ovarian cancer
This is characterised by an abnormal growth of tissue in the ovary - women who have a family history of ovarian cancer, experienced a late pregnancy or those who have never been pregnant are among those who face an increased risk of developing the disease.
"While there are no known reliable screening tests now, it is important to pay attention to your body for abnormal changes such as pain during sexual intercourse, a frequent need to urinate or changes in bowel habits. Seek your doctor for a test, such as a CA-125, to test your blood for tumour markers that may be indicative clues of ovarian cancer," says Dr Lubna Bte Ahmad Harharah, gynaecologist and obstetrician.
4. Uterine fibroids
If you've been experiencing discomfort in the lower abdomen or pelvis, overly long or painful periods, or difficulty in urination, one possible cause could be uterine fibroids - non-cancerous growths in the uterus.
Dr Ting Hua Sieng, obstetrics and gynaecology specialist, says: "Uterine fibroids can result in complications for women who plan to conceive, and are commonly associated with repeated miscarriages. There is no clear cause of this condition, but genetic and hormonal changes could contribute to it.
"One way to treat uterine fibroids is through myomectomy - a surgical procedure that removes the growth, while leaving the uterus intact."
Done via abdominal surgery or laparoscopic keyhole surgery, this is an option for those who are facing problems conceiving or prefer to keep their uterus.
"Laparoscopic myomectomy patients usually have less post-operative pain, less blood loss, shorter hospital stays and faster recovery to normal routines. The surgical scars are a lot smaller, usually 5-10mm only," says Dr Ting.
Creating a safe environment for all
These common diseases are usually hard to detect in its early stages, which is why medical experts emphasise the importance of preventive health screenings.
At PEH, patients will be cared for by a team of experienced doctors, comprising specialists in obstetrics, gynaecology, neonatology and paediatrics. The team is also supported by nurses specially trained in neonatal intensive care, midwifery, lactation and gynaecology to provide the best treatment for your needs.
If you are worried about making a trip to the hospital due to Covid-19 safety concerns, you can be assured that PEH has a set of stringent protocols in place to ensure the safety of its staff, patients and visitors.
Private healthcare provider Parkway Pantai - which manages PEH, along with Gleneagles Hospital, Mount Elizabeth Hospital and Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital - launched its #HealthcareMadeSafer campaign to better protect its staff, patients and visitors with enhanced safety measures.
These include temperature screening and contact tracing, regular disinfection of high-traffic areas, social distancing regulations and self-contained ventilations in wards.
With these safeguards and more in place, you will now be able to seek treatment with peace of mind.
If you or your family members require treatment for a medical condition, make an appointment with a specialist or visit PEH's 24-hour walk-in clinic.