Guide to Common Illnesses in Women That Most People Don't Think About

By Fitri Handa Yani, 28 February 2018 1797

Be it acrophobia or claustrophobia, all of us have our fears.  What is yours?

Many women dread going to the doctors for a thorough body check-up, fearing unwelcome news. Some even avoid the topics of diseases and illnesses entirely. As body examination is needed to detect illnesses early and save lives, women must go for regular screening amidst their busy schedule and prepare for the worst. Follow our guide to understand and prevent some of the most common health afflictions for women. Education is always the best way to handle and prepare for an uncertain future.

1. Breast Cancer


According to SingHealth, more than 25% of all cancers diagnosed in women is breast cancer. This makes breast cancer the most common cancer for women in Singapore, and the risk increases with age.

Causes and risks
Breast cancer arises from a malignant tumour which forms when the breast cells become abnormal and is triggered by repeated monthly cycle of normal female hormones. The length of the fertile period (i.e. from first period to menopause) is a risk factor. Hence, women who experience early periods or late menopause are at risk of breast cancer. Likewise, women who give birth after the age of 30 will also be at a greater risk of getting breast cancer than those who completed their first pregnancy before the age of 30.

Family with a very strong history of breast cancer has a higher chance to be associated with this illness due to tumour suppressor genes, with genetic factors being linked to 5-10% of all breast cancers.

Symptoms and signs
Cancer screening can start from a simple self-examination at home. In fact, around 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer consult their doctors after noticing symptoms themselves. The most common trait of breast cancer is a breast lump. Even a small lump without any pain can be cancerous. However, 9 out of 10 women with breast lump have a benign (non-cancerous) tumour and not cancer

Early detection and prevention
Early detection is key. Regular self-examination  is a start to understand your body and spot any changes in your breasts. However, it should not be relied upon as a diagnosis. The most accurate method to detect lumps is still mammogram. Going for mammogram screening annually helps to discover malignant tumour at its early stage and save lives. Additionally, leading a healthy lifestyle such as eating a balanced diet and exercise regularly also help to boost your immune system which may keep the risk of breast cancer as low as possible. For new mothers, it is also encouraged for mothers to breast feed as it protects against breast cancer.

2. Cervical Cancer

Although cervical cancer stands as the 10th most common female cancer in Singapore, it is highly preventable and is potentially curable if detected at an early stage.

Causes and risks
The most common cause of cervical cancer is Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection. Any female who has ever been sexually active is at a potential risk.

Symptoms and signs
Some of the symptoms include abnormal bleeding from the vagina during sexual intercourse and in between menstrual periods. Late symptoms include pelvic pain, lower back pain, weight loss and swelling of the legs.

Early detection and prevention
Vaccines are available to prevent cervical cancer. They have shown effective protection against viruses that cause 70% of cervical cancers. To encourage more women to go for vaccination, Singaporean and Singapore permanent resident can use up to $400 from their Medisave per year to pay for the three jabs. Women who are and have been sexually active are recommended to vaccinate themselves against preventable cancers. Young women are also encouraged to go for vaccinations before they become sexually active to lower the risk of cervical cancer.

After vaccination, women should still go for pap smear at least once every three years as some HPV sub-types are resistant to the vaccines.

3. Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is the number 5 most common cancer in Singapore. It refers to malignant growth arising from various parts of the ovaries.

Causes and risks
This disease is known to run in the family. The risk of developing ovarian cancer increases twenty-fold in women who have a mother or sister with the disease.

Symptoms and signs
Symptoms for ovarian cancer tend to only develop when it is advanced. They include abdominal swelling and discomfort, bloating or wind, pain and change in bowel habits.

Early detection and prevention
Ovarian cancer is relatively difficult to prevent as it is mainly caused by genetic reasons. Knowing your family history and undergoing genetic testing may help you manage your risk better. Leading a healthy lifestyle and going for regular screenings such as pelvic ultrasound may also help you in limiting your risk with ovarian cancer.

4. Rheumatoid Arthritis

Affecting almost 45,000 people in Singapore, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is the most common autoimmune rheumatic disorder that affects the joints.

Causes and risks
75% of RA patients are female, between the age of 20 to 45 in Singapore. Even though the cause of RA is unknown, it seems to be inherited. Environmental factors such as smoking and hormonal changes during pregnancy also increase the risk of RA.

Symptoms and signs
This disorder results in stiffness and swelling of joints that may cause pain. It may also cause other organs to be damaged. Some people may not realise they have RA as the symptoms are subtle. However, if you suffer from persistent tiredness and mild joint stiffness, it is better to consult the doctor.

Early detection and prevention
It is crucial to diagnose RA early as prompt treatment has shown better chances of improving the joint and ensure other organs remain healthy. For the doctors to diagnose RA accurately, you should undergo blood tests and x-rays.

Additionally, it is also crucial to exercise regularly to stabilise joints and strengthen muscles. For recovering patients, it is necessary to rebuild the muscles and ligaments weakened by the arthritis. However, exercises that stress the joints excessively are discouraged, like jogging and cycling.

5. Autoimmune Hepatitis

Autoimmune Hepatitis occurs when the body's immune system attacks the liver cells and causes it to be inflamed.

Causes and risks
There are type 1 and 2 autoimmune hepatitis. The former can affect people of any age and gender while the latter primarily affects girls and young women, and is less common. No known cause is found linking to the disease but genetic disposition that some people inherit could make them prone to it.

Symptoms and signs
Most patients have no symptoms. The disease is often detected when they undergo blood tests or liver biopsy and found abnormality. Some people may develop fatigue, fever and jaundice in severe cases.

There is currently no cure for autoimmune hepatitis but you can use medicine to lessen inflammation and keep the disease under control. Lifestyle changes are also needed to keep yourself healthy. Consume plenty fruits and vegetables, stay away from alcohol and refrain from taking drugs or supplements before consulting your doctor.  

Protecting yourself first

Falling sick is inevitable, and sometimes, it’s beyond control. Knowing the symptoms and ways to prevent is one way to fear less about these common diseases. Having a protection plan to cover the hefty health costs will also help to take away the financial burden, in the unfortunate event that you do fall sick with any of the above sicknesses, so that you can focus on recovery, instead of fearing about your next medical bill.  A comprehensive female protection plan like Lady 360 comes packaged with health screenings as one of the key benefits. This health screening is available to you every two years to ensure you go for regular checkups despite your busy schedules to detect signs that may require attention earlier. From treatment to surgeries to rehabilitation, Lady 360 covers up to 100% of the sum assured on the benefits. Additionally, there is also a plethora of fine treats put together to give your lifestyle a lift. It is good that we have the power of knowledge on our side; it is now all within our grasp to ensure that we are well protected so that we can fear less for our future.


Important Notes:
This article is meant purely for informational purposes and should not be relied upon as financial advice. The precise terms, conditions and exclusions of any Income products mentioned are specified in their respective policy contracts. For customised advice to suit your specific needs, consult an Income insurance advisor.

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