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What Kinds of Health Screenings do Men Need?


If you’re an average guy, chances are you don’t go to the doctor as much as you probably should. Women visit physicians more often than men, both for specific problems and for preventive care. In the past 30 years, the ratio of male mortality over female mortality has increased in every age category. According to the Men’s Health Network, many men are reluctant to visit doctors because of

  • Lack of awareness of risk factors for specific diseases
  • Embarrassment
  • Lack of trust
  • Fear

In this article, we may not be able to help you with the fear, embarrassment or lack of trust that keeps you from the doctor, but after you read this, lack of awareness won’t be an excuse anymore.

Having physicals, getting preventive testing
Philosophies vary on how often men should have a physical exam. Many doctors suggest that a healthy man who has a healthy lifestyle should get a physical every five years when he’s in his 20s, every three years in his 30s, every two years in his 40s, and once a year after age 50. But talk with your doctor about what would be best for you.

Here’s a list of the conditions you should be tested for, with general recommendations regarding when and how often you should be tested:

  • Prostate cancer: According to the National Prostate Cancer Coalition, this is the most common cancer among men, striking 1 in every 6. Men should be tested annually starting at age 50. African-American men should start getting tested at age 40. They’re 50 more likely to die of prostate cancer than Caucasian men. Prostate cancer can be detected as part of a routine physical by having a digital rectal exam or a blood test called a PSA.
  • Colorectal cancer: This is the third most common cancer in the US. The American Cancer Society recommends beginning screening for colorectal cancer starting at age 50. The colonoscopy is generally recommended every 10 years, but your doctor may suggest a sigmoidoscopy every five years. Those in a higher risk group—which includes a family history of the disease, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, diet high in animal fat—may be requested to be tested earlier.
  • Heart disease: Heart disease can often produce no obvious symptoms, so it’s important to check blood fats (cholesterol and triglycerides) and blood pressure regularly. Many doctors recommend having these tests at the initial checkup and then at least every 5 years.
  • Diabetes: Most men should have a fasting blood sugar test starting at age 45 and every three years after that.
  • Testicular cancer: Men should perform self-exams regularly, and have regular check-ups that include testicular exams. Self-examinations are best performed during or after a bath or shower, when the skin of the scrotum is relaxed. Stand in front of a mirror and examine each testicle separately. Hold the testicle between the thumbs and fingers with both hands and roll it gently between the fingers. Look and feel for any lumps, or any change in the size, shape or consistency of the testes. Tell your doctor about any changes that you notice. This type of cancer is more common in men younger than 35.

Erectile Dysfunction (ED), the inability to achieve or sustain an erection, is another health issue that affects 18 million men at some point in their lives. Only about 10% receive treatment because men are reluctant to talk about ED with their partners and physicians. While occasional ED is normal, certain physical conditions can cause recurrent ED:

  • Arterial blockage
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Neurological disorders
  • Heavy smoking or drinking
  • Side effects of certain medications

ED can result from (and cause) stress, depression or relationship problems. It’s especially helpful if your partner is supportive during the diagnosis and treatment process. Counseling is often a good idea for couples who are experiencing this problem.

A number of treatments are available for ED. The physician may recommend quitting smoking, or changing medications to eliminate unwanted side effects. The prescription medication Viagra®, which can increase blood flow to the penis, is often prescribed for ED. Hormone therapy is another option, as is psychological counseling. Finally, surgery is possible if a blockage is discovered to be causing the problem. 

Listen to your body, talk with your doctor
It’s important to be in tune with your body, to “listen to your body” for any unusual signs or symptoms you should tell your doctor about. But you don’t have to figure out on your own what your risk factors for disease are and when you need to be screened. Together, you and your doctor can determine your risk profile, ways to lower your risk and when you should be tested. Early detection is the best way to catch disease early, when treatment is easiest and your chances for survival are highest.

American Foundation for Urological Diseases; Journal of Family Practice, February 2002; National Center for Health Statistics; Men’s Health Network; H. Simon, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Men’s Health, The Free Press, 2002.
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