From obesity to prostate cancer: Essential health screenings for men

Regular health assessments can help to pick up early warning signs and prevent life-long complications from diseases

Dr Benjamin Loh, a General Practitioner at Dr Ben Medical, encourages men in Singapore to see their doctors for regular health screenings as early detection is key to getting health issues treated more effectively. PHOTO CREDIT: DR BEN MEDICAL

Men, even if you are feeling fine, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to schedule regular medical check-ups. This can help to detect potential issues at an early stage for more effective intervention or to prevent any problem from developing into a serious chronic condition.

Men are less inclined to go for regular health screenings probably because they are concerned about what the check-ups could unearth, says Dr Benjamin Loh, a General Practitioner at Dr Ben Medical, a men’s health clinic. Lack of awareness of what tests they need is also another reason, he adds. 

“One of the most important and cost-effective health checks that a man should consider is for a weight check as obesity is associated with a host of other chronic illnesses, including testosterone deficiency, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA),” notes Dr Loh.

Testing for obstructive sleep apnea 

In OSA, the upper airway is partially or completely blocked during sleep, leading to snoring, multiple pauses in breathing and a night of unrefreshing sleep. 

“Many think OSA is caused by snoring when in fact snoring is a symptom of OSA. OSA is when the patient stops breathing for periods of time during sleep, and this can happen multiple times throughout the night,” Dr Loh explained. 

This makes it impossible to have a good night’s rest and one wakes up feeling more tired. The problems do not end there. 

“Some men may also experience a drop in libido. OSA can also put pressure on the heart and in the long run, it can result in cardiac issues and stroke,” Dr Loh says.

OSA may be caused by multiple conditions such as allergies, narrowed airways, alcohol consumption or more commonly, obesity. A person with obesity tends to have an excess of soft tissues exerting on the respiratory passage, which can obstruct breathing. To check for OSA, the patient will be monitored in his sleep via a home sleep study .

Dr Loh recommends lifestyle changes for patients with OSA, focusing on a healthy diet to reduce the extra weight. Depending on the condition and the underlying reasons, medical intervention like using a CPAP machine may also be required.

Obstructive sleep apnea may be caused by multiple conditions such as allergies, narrowed airways, alcohol consumption or more commonly, obesity. PHOTO CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Other important tests

Screening for diabetes also ranks high on the list of important tests as detecting it and intervening earlier will greatly reduce the risks of morbidity and mortality. If a person is found to be pre-diabetic, lifestyle and diet changes like eating healthily and exercising can prevent the condition from progressing, Dr Loh says.

It is important to screen for and treat high cholesterol and hypertension too to help stave off strokes and heart attacks. 

A test for Vitamin D deficiency is also recommended.

“Vitamin D deficiency is an under-discussed topic in Singapore and the condition often goes undiagnosed. This is because the symptoms – mood elevation, loss of libido, and low immunity – are commonly attributed to stress. So it’s always a challenge to diagnose the condition,” Dr Loh says. 

“And even when one is diagnosed with it, people think it’s enough to go under the sun, which is not always adequate. I recommend my patients to include a Vitamin D supplement in their diet.”

Testicular and prostate conditions

A good practice is that men should start regular testicular self-examinations to help early detection of testicular cancer. Just like how women do their self-breast examination, men can check for lumps in the scrotal area while in the shower. Alternatively, they can approach their doctor for a physical or ultrasound examination in the clinic. 

Another male-related cancer that men ought to get checked out for is prostate cancer. This can be done either through a physical rectal examination by a doctor or a blood test to investigate cancer markers.  

Sexually transmitted diseases

Adults who are sexually active can also take STD blood and urine tests to check for sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea. “Both conditions are fully treatable, but can go undiagnosed for years because there are some who might not experience any symptoms. Leaving it undetected in the long run can affect fertility,” Dr Loh says.  

If you’ve had unprotected sexual contact leading to possible exposure to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection, there is an option to treat it with HIV Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (or PEP HIV). It is most effective when started within 72 hours of exposure.

Get your jabs

Dr Loh also advises men to keep up to date on their vaccinations. These include jabs for shingles, recommended for older adults, as well as jabs for hepatitis A and B and the flu. Younger men can also consider taking the human papillomavirus vaccine.

Do your checks regularly 

Dr Loh encourages men in Singapore to see their doctors for regular health screenings. Any red flags raised means action can be taken as soon as possible, while early detection is key to getting it treated more effectively. 

Dr Loh advises men to speak to their doctors and start getting these checks done should they have any concerns. Those with risk factors, including having certain symptoms or a family history, should consider getting screened at an earlier age. 

“For example, if a patient has a recurrent fungal infection like balanitis, ear fungal infections or superficial fungal skin infections, I might consider getting my patients screened for diabetes,” says Dr Loh.  

“Everyone is responsible for his own health. If your focus is on achieving longevity, then prevention plays the greatest role,” he adds. 

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