We’re all busy, right? Maintaining a career, looking after family, keeping up a social life – it’s fulfilling, but it can also be draining. Which is why it’s important to ensure you have regular health checks to make sure you’re staying on top of any potential issues. We spoke to four doctors here in Hong Kong to get their expert advice on key health problems facing women and the type of health checks that should be undertaken for these.
#1 Pap smears
Dr Sally Ferguson is a specialist in gynaecology and works at Dr Lauren Bramley & Partners, a private medical practice that serves the expatriate community, with Chinese-, English- and French-speaking staff.
Why do women need regular Pap smears?
“Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer affecting women globally, and there are 400 to 500 new cases in Hong Kong each year. Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Many sexually active women may have come into contact with HPV, though, in most women, the infection stays in the cervix and vagina for one to two years and then goes away; however, in 10 percent of women the infection can persist and can lead to cervical cancer developing. A Pap smear is a medical examination of cells from the cervix (the opening to the uterus at the top of the vagina). If the cells are dividing rapidly, abnormal cells are visible on the Pap smear. If there is HPV, this may be seen, or there is another genetic test for HPV material that can be taken. Here in Hong Kong, women should have their first Pap smear at age 25, and then another one a year later. If these have been normal, one every three years until age 64 is standard. If sexual activity has started ‘young’, then Pap smears can be started earlier; in some countries, such as the US, yearly tests are the norm. A Pap smear is part of a pelvic examination. The patient lies down and a speculum is then inserted to allow the doctor to view the cervix and swirl a small plastic brush over the cervix to collect cells to be sent to a lab for testing. The gynaecologist will then usually examine the pelvis to look for abnormal lumps like uterine fibroids or a large ovarian cyst. A HPV vaccine is available in Hong Kong – I’m happy to discuss this further with patients.”
Dr Lauren Bramley & Partners
9/F, Pacific House, 20 Queen’s Road, Central
Dr Leung Siu Lan is a consultant in general surgery at Hong Kong Adventist Hospital – Stubbs Road, which has an out-patient clinic and extensive experience serving foreign patients and their families.
Why is it important for women to have mammograms?
“Breast cancer has been the most common cancer affecting women in Hong Kong since 1993 and is the third leading cause of cancer deaths among women. The lifetime breast cancer risk is one in every 16 women. A mammography exam, called a mammogram, is one of the key health checks which aids in detection and diagnosis of breast diseases in women. Mammography is specialised medical imaging that uses a low-dose x-ray system to see inside the breasts. The mammographic images are examined for abnormal areas of density, mass, architectural distortion or calcification that may indicate the presence of cancer. The commonly suggested age for screening in Hong Kong is from 40 years. But if you have certain risk factors, the advised age may change. All women, regardless of age, should be aware of the early symptoms of breast cancer, and should visit their doctors promptly if these symptoms appear.”
Hong Kong Adventist Hospital
40 Stubbs Road
#3 Osteoporosis tests
Dr Zara Chan is a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at the OT&P Woman and Child Clinic in Central. OT&P has seven clinics in Hong Kong providing services to the local and expat community.
What is your advice to women about osteoporosis?
“Osteoporosis is when the bones are weak and porous. It has no symptoms and doesn’t cause any discomfort, so is usually only diagnosed when people present with fractures. It’s an increasing issue for women in Hong Kong as the population is ageing – for example, the past half century has seen a sharp increase in the number of hip fractures in Hong Kong. Women should consider getting health checks for osteoporosis if you’re aged over 65 years. If you are under 65, but have risk factors such as low BMI, vitamin D deficiency or a sedentary lifestyle, or are at menopausal age with fractures after a low impact injury, you should also consider getting checked. Another sign to be aware of is rapid loss of height of more than three centimetres over a year. Another higher risk group are women who are on long-term medication associated with osteoporosis, such as steroids. The test for osteoporosis is a special type of X-ray, a Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DXA) scan.”
OT&P Woman and Child Clinic
13/F, Hing Wai Building, 36 Queen’s Road, Central
#4 Pre-pregnancy health checks
Dr Ho See Yunn specialises in women’s health issues and works for Clearbridge Medical Centre in Causeway Bay, which is a family medicine and health screening centre. Staff can speak Mandarin, English and Cantonese and some Japanese.
What’s your advice to women who are planning a pregnancy?
“Women planning a pregnancy fall into three different groups; the first step is to ascertain which group you belong to and so you can be tested accordingly. Women who have a history of irregular menses should have health checks for fertility, such as having a pelvic ultrasound to look for ovarian cysts or uterus problems. Women who have no difficulty getting pregnant should check for things such as hereditary or infectious diseases that could transmit to the child. The third group includes women who have difficulty getting pregnant or have a history of recurrent miscarriages. Tests include checking hormones for ovarian reserve and auto-antibodies. Women should eat a healthy, nutritious diet, exercise regularly, and stop unhealthy habits such as smoking or drinking. In addition, start taking prenatal vitamins so that the baby will have adequate vitamins like folic acid to have normal neural development in the womb. Seek help from your doctor if you’re on chronic medications and need to know whether the medication is suitable during pregnancy or not.”
Clearbridge Medical Group
Unit 12, 21/F, East Point Centre, 555 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay
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