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Men often only seek medical advice after developing serious symptoms. Why the reluctance to see the doctor earlier? Let us share why it is important to be proactive about your health and what health screenings you should go for.

Back in 2020, I experienced some abdominal pain which I wrote off as indigestion or stomach upset. The pain persisted and I had to go to the Emergency Department at Sengkang General Hospital twice," recounts Mr HN Ong*, 68.

"After a series of tests, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer. It was a shock for me — from not experiencing any symptoms prior to the pain, a mere abdominal pain led to a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis."

But with the support of his family and urologist, Mr Ong was able to view his situation more positively. He has accepted that although it was incurable, the treatment would give him a better quality of life and help manage his condition better.

"One of the symptoms I had was increased urination at night. I’d thought it was normal for people my age and dismissed it. I didn’t think it meant anything," he recalls.

Mr Ong’s urologist, Clinical Associate Professor Lee Lui Shiong who heads the Department of Urology at SKH, shares that many men postpone consultation for urinary symptoms, mistaking it as a sign of ageing.

"Some don’t think a formal evaluation is needed when there’s no pain. Even if there’s bleeding but it is short-lived, patients delay consultation. Some may be ignoring symptoms too."

Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that health complaints are for the "weak". SKH psychologist Mark Rozario shares: "For men, in general, ‘sensitive’ subjects can include any topic which makes them feel vulnerable or question their sense of virility." Topics include erectile dysfunction, mental health and financial issues.

"The physical health issues that men face can also affect their mental health, and vice versa," he adds. Studies have shown a link between physical and mental health, with conditions like anxiety and depression co-occurring with other illnesses.

Mr Rozario encourages men to consult a medical doctor as well as a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, to get a more holistic view of one’s condition. "There’s absolutely no shame in seeking professional help. Professional help allows you to get a useful perspective, based on other patients who’ve been in similar situations."

The reluctance to visit a doctor is worrying because men are prone to chronic diseases, such as obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes, as well as diseases unique to men like prostate cancer, which is the second most common cancer among men in Singapore after colorectal cancer.

A recent MOH health survey showed that more men are overweight with high risk BMI than women. Men are also more likely to make unhealthy choices, such as smoking and binge-drinking. Smoking increases men’s risk of developing bladder and kidney cancer.

"Neglecting one’s health and delaying doctor visits can result in bigger health problems," Prof Lee advises. "To lead a productive life, take charge of your health and lifestyle - maintain healthy habits and get screened regularly."

*Name has been changed

Recommended Health Screenings for Men

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Ask your doctor how often you should get screened.

Age: 20s and 30s

• Obesity (BMI and waist circumference)
• High blood pressure and cholesterol
• Diabetes

Age: 40s and up

• Obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes
• Colorectal cancer (stool test and colonoscopy)

Age: 50s and up

• Obesity, high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes
• Osteoporosis (bone mineral density scan) after age of 60 for those with risk factors
• Colorectal cancer (stool test and colonoscopy)

Concerned for a man you know? Help him wise up.

Share your concerns about his health.

Figure out what is preventing him from seeking medical advice. Is he afraid of getting an unfavourable diagnosis? Perhaps he is worried about appearing weak, requiring financial support, or merely find it inconvenient and too time-consuming to visit the doctor.

Provide support.

If he is anxious about the diagnosis, offer to accompany him to the appointment. If he is worried about appearing weak, assure him that it is normal to seek help. Persuade, not nag or lecture.

If it is the inconvenience, help him make the appointment at a timing suitable for him.

Assist in preparing for the doctor’s visit.

Talk through the symptoms together and note down any relevant family history of illnesses. Identify questions to ask or clarify.

For more on prostate cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia, click here.

Catch up on other Skoop stories here!