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, and June is the perfect time to do it. This is the month that we celebrate fathers – and Father’s Day is a great time to reflect upon how much your children need you to be around to see them grow up. And National Men’s Health Week is celebrated the week leading up to Father’s Day, so all guys can celebrate this occasion by taking the opportunity to make that appointment.
A preventive health checkup includes tests to screen for certain diseases, depending upon your age and your health history. Some of these include:
☑ 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.
☑ 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.
☑ 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.
☑ DIABETES SCREENING
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.
☑ CHOLESTEROL SCREENING
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.
☑ 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.
☑ 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.
Why Do Women Live Longer Than Men?
Take one look around most nursing homes, and you’ll see many more women than men. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men die at higher rates than women from the top 10 causes of death and on average, die almost five years earlier than women. But why? According to research:
- Men are more likely to have riskier jobs, like firefighting, military combat, construction, and commercial fishing.
- Men take bigger risks, such as smoking or drinking to excess, driving drunk, biking without helmets, and fighting.
- Men avoid doctors. In fact, according to the Men’s Health Network, women are 100 percent more likely to visit the doctor for preventive services than men.
- Men fail to seek care for mental health, and are more likely to successfully commit suicide.
- Men are often less socially connected than women, which for unknown reasons, results in a higher death rate.
- Men have lower estrogen levels, and estrogen protects the heart. But even when women’s estrogen levels drop at menopause, men still have a higher rate of death from heart disease, which may be due to untreated conditions such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
High Tech Tests
Should you take advantage of tests that aren’t generally offered by your primary care physician, such as cardiovascular screening through a company like Life Line Screening? Or request low-dose CT scanning to screen for early lung cancer? Demand an exercise stress test even if you have no symptoms?
These are individual decisions and should be carefully considered, say the experts. While the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that those ages 55 and older with a 30 pack-year history of smoking (1 pack a day for 30 years or 2 packs a day for 15 years) and who are still smoking or have quit within the past 15 years get lung cancer screenings, “This can start you down a slippery slope, too,” said Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, internist and co-author of Real Cause, Real Cure. “The problem is that if anything is seen on the test, even something that may not represent cancer or a cancer that would kill you – it will be further investigated. This means a biopsy and maybe further treatment, with physical, financial, and emotional risks.”
As for cardiovascular testing through companies like Life Line, you will pay the entire cost, as insurance companies won’t pay for these tests unless you have symptoms. But depending upon your risk factors, the cost may be worth it, said Stephen Sinatra, MD, cardiologist and co-author of “Health Revelations From Heaven and Earth.” “Any time there is a family history of sudden death or heart attack in someone under 50, family members should be screened vigorously,” he recommended.
Cardiovascular screening tests may include carotid artery and peripheral artery ultrasound to check for plaque buildup, abdominal and thoracic aneurysm screening, and exercise stress testing.
And, according to Dr. Sinatra, anyone over 40 years old who is thinking of participating in interval training should always be properly screened with an exercise stress test prior to starting. “This is the kind of exercise that scares me,” he said. “Aggressive interval training, especially if you’re not used to it, can raise the blood pressure and heart rate, and put stress on the heart. This can cause a plaque rupture, which can lead to sudden coronary death.” MS&F