OK, guys, let’s be honest. How long has it been since you went to the doc, not for an illness or an injury, but for a preventive health checkup? Chances are, it’s been awhile – maybe even a long while. Research shows that men often fail to make their health care a priority, seeking help only for specific problems rather than for preventive care.
The trouble with this? The risks of not seeking regular health care can be dangerous, because many health conditions don’t show clear signs and symptoms until the condition has become severe. But it’s not too late to make a change. Just make an appointment for a preventive health checkup, which will include tests to screen for certain diseases, depending upon your age and your health history.
TESTICULAR CANCER EXAM
About half of the cases of testicular cancer are seen in men between the ages of 20 and 34, but it can occur in men of any age. Risk factors include a family history of testicular cancer, and having had an undescended testicle. If caught early, testicular cancer can be successfully treated.
When To Get It: The American Cancer Society recommends that your doctor examine your scrotum for lumps, tenderness and swelling as part of a routine checkup, especially if you have risk factors for testicular cancer. Monthly self-examination of your testes can pay off big time in detecting problems early, too, said Dr. Leavey.
BLOOD PRESSURE CHECK
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is in most cases, a symptomless disease. Left untreated, it can cause damage to the heart and kidneys as well as strokes. It’s not unusual for even young people to have elevated blood pressure these days, said Marc I. Leavey, MD, a primary care physician at Lutherville Personal Physicians, part of the Mercy Hospital System in the Baltimore, Maryland area. With “increasing prevalence of a sedentary lifestyle, with sports played on a tablet rather than a field, and super-sized meals and snacks,” preventable illnesses like hypertension are common even among kids, he claimed.
When To Get It: You should have your blood pressure checked at least every two years beginning at age 20, said Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, internist and co-author of Real Cause, Real Cure; more often if you’re African American, overweight, diabetic, or have a family history of hypertension, all risk factors for the disease. If your blood pressure reading is high, your doctor can instruct you on how often to monitor it and prescribe treatment if necessary.
COLORECTAL CANCER SCREENING
Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer in males. Risk factors include a family history of colon cancer or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s. It is usually preceded by polyps that arise from the wall of the large intestine. Finding and removing the polyps can help to prevent colon cancer.
When To Get It: “People at average risk should get tested beginning at age 50,” said Dr. Teitelbaum; those with above-average risk factors should begin testing at age 40, or even earlier. Frequency of testing depends both upon the type of test used and the findings. A colonoscopy, which is a procedure that allows your doc to look at the lining of the large intestine through a thin, flexible tube, is the “gold standard;” this test allows the examiner to remove polyps that may grow into cancer. If you just can’t bring yourself to have a colonoscopy, there are several other tests available, including Cologuard, a stool DNA test that you can use at home to detect colon cancer and some polyps. According to Dr. Leavey, this test is not indicated for those with high risk, but may be useful for those of average risk who can’t undergo colonoscopy or fear the examination.
Men are more likely than woman to have undiagnosed diabetes type 2, a condition that causes few or no symptoms in early stages, and if left untreated, can lead to stroke and heart disease, kidney failure, eye disease, and nerve damage. High risk factors include certain ethnic populations such as African American and American Indian, those with a family history of diabetes, those with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, being overweight and inactive, and those older than age 45.
When To Get It: Most health organizations suggest diabetes screening, which involves a fasting blood test, be done every three years beginning at age 45, earlier if you fall into one of the high risk categories. If your test is abnormal, your doctor will likely advise more frequent testing and perhaps treatment.
According to the American Heart Association, men have a higher risk of developing heart disease than women do, and having high cholesterol is one factor that contributes to this. A cholesterol screening is a blood test that will determine your levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL, considered “good” cholesterol) and low density lipoprotein (LDL, considered “bad” cholesterol), as well as harmful blood fats called triglycerides. Your doctor will use this information along with other health information, to determine whether you need to modify your lifestyle or even consider medication to lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease. Lifestyle changes are especially important for those who have metabolic syndrome, said Dr. Teitelbaum, which is a condition in which you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and pre-diabetes or diabetes; metabolic syndrome can greatly increase your risk of heart disease.
When To Get It: The American Heart Association suggests that beginning at age 20, you should get your cholesterol levels checked every 4 to 6 years as part of a cardiovascular risk assessment. If you have a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease, your doc may recommend more frequent testing.
SKIN CANCER SCREENING
Men are more likely than women to get all forms of skin cancer, including basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, both highly treatable skin cancers, and the more serious but less common melanoma.
When To Get It: Current guidelines don’t call for a particular frequency of skin cancer screening for adults at average risk, although most doctors do a visual examination of the skin during a preventive health exam. For those with a family history of melanoma, though, yearly skin inspections should begin at age 20. Periodic self-inspection of your skin and reporting of any changes to your physician will assure a better outcome if you do develop skin cancer.
PROSTATE CANCER EXAM
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men, after skin cancer; it may grow slowly and not need treatment for a while or at all, or (less often), it may act aggressively and need immediate treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. The risk of prostate cancer rises with age, and is also higher in those of African American descent or with a family history of prostate cancer. A prostate cancer exam consists of a rectal exam (usually), along with a blood test called prostate specific antigen (PSA), which measures a protein made by the prostate. PSA often rises when you have prostate cancer, but it may also rise with other prostate conditions or it may not rise with cancer, making it an imperfect test.
When To Get It: Because there are many variables involving both the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends that men make an informed decision with their physician as to when PSA screening should be started. In general, it’s recommended beginning at age 50 for men at average risk, age 45 for those with higher risk, including African Americans and men who have a first degree relative who was diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 65, and at age 40 for those with more than one first degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age. But, “many physicians feel strongly that previous guidelines, with testing of all men beginning at age 40, provides a substantial benefit,” said Dr. Leavey.
By Linda Hepler, BSN, RN