By Lucy Maher
When asked in a 2018 survey if they’d seen a doctor or another healthcare professional in the past year, only 62% of men said yes. That means 38% of them may be neglecting their health.
In addition to seeing a primary care physician and a dentist once a year for an annual physical exam and routine teeth cleaning, respectively, there are essential health screenings men should put on their to-do list to catch any underlying medical conditions early-on and to help maintain their health.
About 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime, making it the second most common cancer that affects them. Older and African-American men are diagnosed most often. The average age of diagnosis is 66, according to cancer.org.
The good news is that most men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it. That’s in part thanks to screening that involves a PSA blood test that measures the levels of a prostate-specific antigen in the blood. If yours is abnormal, you may then receive a digital rectal exam in which your doctor feels for a prostate that’s enlarged or irregularly shaped. You may then undergo a biopsy to test for signs of cancer. Men with risk factors may discuss this test with their doctors at age 40. Without risk factors, you should begin discussions at age 45.
Here’s the sobering truth, says Caren Campbell, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in San Francisco.
“Men are more likely to die of melanoma than women,” she says. “White adolescent males and young adult men are about twice as likely to die of melanoma as are white females of the same age. By age 50, men are also more likely than women to develop melanoma. This number jumps by age 65, making men two times as likely as women of the same age to get melanoma. By age 80, men are three times more likely than women in that age group to develop melanoma.”
What’s more, says board-certified dermatologist Lavanya Krishnan, MD, “melanomas on the back are commonly diagnosed in men, and this is an area of the body that is more difficult to monitor alone.”
To stay on top of your skin health, it’s important to see a dermatologist once a year for an annual skin check. During this exam, your doctor will check your body, including your scalp and the soles of your feet, for any concerning spots that might require extra examination or monitoring. This is often with a dermascope, which is a cross between a microscope and a flashlight.
The third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women, this disease affects men slightly more than it does women, with 1 in 23 men diagnosed during their lifetime. Risk factors include being overweight, sedentary, smoking, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease and your age—it’s more common in those over 50.
The good news is that regular screenings are bringing these numbers down. There are five screenings available to patients:
Fecal occult blood test: a stool sample is checked for microscopic amounts of blood.
Sigmoidoscopy: a procedure that uses a thin scope inserted into the rectum to examine the sigmoid colon and rectum.
Colonoscopy: this procedure also uses a thin scope but examines the rectum and the colon.
Virtual colonoscopy: X-rays that take a series of images of the colon.
DNA stool test: in this test, the stool’s DNA is examined for changes that might signal colorectal cancer.
Screenings for people with average risk should begin at age 45, according to the American Cancer Society. Those at higher risk may begin earlier.
More than 9% of the population—or about 30 million people—has diabetes. Men develop the chronic condition slightly more than women do: 14% of men were estimated to have diabetes in 2018 as opposed to 12.8% of women. Men also experience different side effects from having diabetes, including erectile dysfunction, low testosterone, and urological issues like overactive bladder and urinary tract infections.
Those who should be screened include people over 45 years old, people with a body mass index (BMI) over 25, a woman who has had gestational diabetes and anyone who has been diagnosed with prediabetes. Your doctor may opt to test you annually or every three years.
“Men should be tested because diabetes could lead to damages to eyes, kidneys, and nerves,” says Howard W. Lan, DO, of the Loma Linda University International Heart Institute. “Diabetes can also cause stroke, heart attack, and reduced blood flow to the legs.”
Testing for diabetes is fairly simple: Methods include a random blood sugar test, taken at any time of day; a fasting blood sugar test, taken after an overnight fast; and an oral glucose test in which you fast overnight, have your blood sugar level tested, drink a sugary liquid, then have your blood sugar levels tested every two hours thereafter.
“Men should be tested for high cholesterol because it is associated with hypertension, stroke, heart attack, and peripheral vascular disease,” says Dr. Lan.
A cholesterol blood test, also called a lipid panel, in addition to measuring the total cholesterol in the blood, measures low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), which are “bad” cholesterol that cause plaque build-up; “good” cholesterol, or high-density lipoproteins (HDLs); and triglycerides, which are linked to heart disease.
“It is reasonable to start screening for high cholesterol at age 20 to estimate Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease (ASCVD) risk and to document baseline low-density lipoproteins,” says Dr. Lan. “However, men with strong family history of high cholesterol should be tested at a younger age.”
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