It’s never too early—or too late—to start preventive care. Men may hate going to the doctor, but they’re doing themselves and their loved ones a disservice if they don’t go.
“It’s very important for men to stay on top of their health. The best way for them to do this is to show up, see their doctor, and not let the fear of what might keep them from preventive care,” says David Henderson, MD, a urologist at Lakeview Urology and General Surgery in Bountiful, UT. “Early detection is so important because it gives you a significant survival benefit.”
First and foremost, family history and other risk factors have a big impact on what doctors will screen you for and when, according to Dr. Henderson. “Guidelines for most individuals suggest that at age 50, a prostate exam is appropriate. But certain individuals, depending on family history, might want to start in their 40s,” he says.
Similarly, depending on your family history and symptoms, your doc might or might not perform an EKG on you when you’re in your 20s. Knowing and sharing your family history with your doctor is the first step in understanding what tests should start when. Here are the most important health tests for men, no matter their age.
1. Cholesterol and blood pressure screenings
Unhealthy cholesterol levels and high blood pressure are two of the biggest contributors to atherosclerosis, which can cause a stroke or heart attack. To get a handle on both your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, have them checked regularly, starting at age 20 and continuing throughout your life.
2. Blood glucose screening
About 15.5 million men had diabetes in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s two million more men than women. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends blood sugar screening for overweight or obese people aged 40 to 70 (both men and women), but the American Diabetes Association disagrees, noting that the rate of undiagnosed diabetes is 60 percent higher in people aged 20 to 44 than the population as a whole. An A1C test, a fasting plasma glucose test or an oral glucose tolerance test can all be used to screen for diabetes.
3. Prostate exam
Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer for men in the US, next to skin cancer, with 230,000 cases a year. Prostate cancer is also the third leading cause of cancer deaths in men.
There are two types of screening tests. The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test measures PSA, a substance in the blood that gets produced by the prostate in higher amounts in men with prostate cancer. For the second type of test, a digital rectal exam, a healthcare practitioner will insert a finger into the rectum and check the prostate for lumps. “If there is any family history of prostate cancer, the PSA screening would start at age 40,” says Henderson.
4. Colorectal cancer screening
The ACS predicts nearly 50,000 deaths from colon cancer in 2016. Men have a slightly higher chance of getting colon cancer than women. Colon cancer screenings usually start at age 50, but a January 2016 study of more than 258,000 people published in the journal CANCER found that nearly 15 percent of people with colon cancer developed it before age 50. The USPSTF recommends fecal tests (with or without a flexible sigmoidoscopy) and colonoscopies as the main screening methods, but there are other options as well.
5. Skin exam
The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that over 17,000 more men than women will be diagnosed with melanoma by the end of 2016. Your healthcare provider can perform a brief visual skin check at every visit but you should be doing them yourself as well. Check each mole for the ABCDEs: asymmetry, irregular borders, a variety of colors, a large diameter and evolution or change over time.
For people who have had melanoma in the past, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends a full-body skin check from a dermatologist at least once a year. For everyone else, a dermatologist will recommend a screening schedule based on individual risk factors.
6. Bone density test
Osteoporosis is often thought of as a condition that affects mainly women, especially menopausal women, but there are some cases where a bone density test—which checks for osteoporosis and bone loss—might be a good idea for men, too. Men who have low testosterone (hypogonadal) should be checked for osteoporosis. Also, any man that shows low bone mass or unexplained fractures might qualify for a bone density test.
7. Aneurysm screening
Men over 65, and those who have smoked over 100 cigarettes in their life, should be screened for abdominal aortic aneurysm. An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a weakness in the wall of the aorta—the main artery of the body—that causes it to balloon out and may cause it to burst. The screening is done by ultrasound.
So whether you simply didn’t know what tests you need or have benched them for a while, don’t wait any longer. Suit up and talk to your urologist or primary care physician about what tests you should be getting. Or, book an appointment online with one of our men’s health specialists.