Associate Professor Chia Sing Joo, 53, received the National Healthcare Group's Distinguished Achievement Award for 23 years of work in urology.
This speciality deals with the urinary system and male reproductive organs. Prof Chia, who is now head of general surgery and urology at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), speaks to The New Paper about his start in medicine, cancer and robots.
How did you get into urology?
It is a sad story actually. I was in a group of medical officers and when it was time to choose our traineeship, I was the most junior. So the others chose first, picking the popular specialisations like breast and colorectal. I was left with urology, perceived to be not so sexy or lucrative. My head of department told me to take it up, so I said 'okay lah'. But I'm not complaining (now), because it is very interesting.
What causes male fertility problems?
There are a few causes. First, chronic diseases related to ageing, diabetes and medication.
Second, sexual dysfunction is stress-related. This is mainly for younger patients. Stress, from work, leads to a barrier to perform. Another type of stress is family stress to produce kids. I have a few cases where the men are in their late 30s and are under pressure to have kids.
The third type is due to "naughtiness" when younger, where they had some traumatic experience and are now unable to control themselves and have premature ejaculation.
Can radiation from mobile phones hurt one's libido?
No, it is not related to libido. The main cause is stress-related. Mobile phones can cause accidents, but not loss of libido (laughing). Do all cases of prostate cancer require treatment?
From my experience, we are getting more cases of prostate cancer, but most are in the early stage. The concern that arises is: Should we treat them too early?
If a patient is 75 and has prostate cancer, treatment may not prolong his life as he may die of heart attack or lung disease, compared with a 30-year-old. In these cases with early stages, we may do 'watchful waiting'. Still, most patients in Singapore want to be treated early and take the cancer out.
How do you prevent urological cancers?
First, don't age (laughs). Don't smoke, reduce your exposure to carcinogens and lead a healthier lifestyle. Also, don't eat too much animal fat.
Stress is always a factor but it is unavoidable in this day and age.
How do you feel about receiving this award?
I started in TTSH in 1986 and stayed in institutional practice (instead of going into private practice) because I can do more research and teaching. Nobody could predict that urology would become very interesting, even though you are restricted to the lower part of the body.
Doctors hope that there will be progress in their fields, and for urology, there has been progress in treatments and diagnoses. The surgery procedures have become minimally invasive and the patient does not have to stay in the hospital for as long.
It is a challenging field where I am constantly learning. In the last decade, I learnt how to perform surgery with a robot.
This article was first published on July 12, 2014.
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