Compared to women, men avoid going to the doctor, skip more recommended screenings and tend to practice riskier behavior. They tend to live more years of their lives with bad health than their female counterparts and also have about a five-year shorter life expectancy than women.
Statistics show time and time again that men are more reluctant to head in for a checkup than women. In fact, we published an article a while back regarding a study that revealed the great lengths many men claim they’ll go to avoid a trip to the doctor. 65% of the men surveyed even stated that they tend to wait as long as possible to see a doctor — even if they have prolonged symptoms or an injury.
While there can be various reasons why you’ve hesitated to head in to see the doc, preventative health checkups make for a healthier you and allow you the opportunity to get out ahead of health issues early.
“It’s a bit like taking your car in for an oil change,” says Robert Smitherman, M.D., a primary care physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Arlington and at Texas Health Family Care, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. “They’re going to change your oil, sure, but they’re also going to do a multi-point inspection and check your tire pressure and your coolant levels and other basic things that also contribute to the health of your vehicle and try to catch them before they become a bigger issue.”
If you need a bit of a refresher on what you should be regularly checking up on — and when — we’ve compiled a helpful list to guide you.
Check These Yearly:
1. PSA test
Approximately 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime, making it the second most common cancer in American men behind skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
The prostate is a small gland located below the bladder, and it is responsible for producing some of the fluids contained in semen, the liquid that transports sperm. Prostate cancer happens when normal cells in the prostate gland change into abnormal cells and grow out of control.
Prostate cancer is most likely to develop in older men, with most men being diagnosed after the age of 40. About 60% of cases are diagnosed in men over the age of 65, and the average age at diagnosis is about 66.
Prostate cancer often does not present with symptoms in the early stages, which makes it a tricky disease to diagnose without regular preventative screening. The most common screening test in asymptomatic men is a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, followed by a rectal exam.
2. Skin check
As we mentioned earlier, skin cancer is the most common cancer in American men. Men are more likely to get melanoma than women, and almost twice as many will die from this form of skin cancer. However, it’s also one of the most preventable, treatable and survivable cancers if you catch issues early.
If you have a family history of skin cancer, or have had significant sunburns over your lifetime, you are at high risk for skin cancer. Skin cancer can also affect men of any age.
During a clinical exam, your doctor will check for moles, birthmarks and other pigmented areas that look abnormal. If there is an area on the skin that appears abnormal, the provider can perform a biopsy and send the tissue sample to a lab to check for the existence of cancerous cells.
3. Blood sugar check
Staying on top of your blood sugar levels can help reduce your risk of cardiac disease as well as the development of diabetes. Diabetes greatly increases your risk of heart disease and other complications such as kidney damage and erectile dysfunction due to nerve damage.
There are several tests your provider might use to screen for diabetes, but they are all designed to measure the amount of sugar in your blood. Results are usually available quickly. You may be asked to fast for up to 12 hours prior to your diabetes screening.
If you’re diagnosed with elevated blood sugar levels, whether it’s pre-diabetes or diabetes, it can be managed effectively with diet, exercise, and sometimes medication.
4. Lung cancer
Lung cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. 90% of lung cancer diagnoses are in people who smoke. If you currently smoke, have smoked in the past, or are exposed to significant secondhand smoke, getting a lung cancer screening can be wise.
Lung cancer screenings are performed via low-dose CT (LDCT) scan and used to detect cancerous growths mainly in individuals who are at higher risk due to a history of smoking. It is recommended these individuals have an annual LDCT exam between the ages of 50-80.
Check These Every Three Years:
The American Cancer Society recommends that all men should be screened for colon cancer starting at age 45, but if you’ve made it to 50 without getting screened, you should definitely get that started up as soon as possible.
Cologuard is a practical option for a lot of people at average risk of developing colorectal cancer. If your results come back negative, you can go three years without another screening. If you do have a colonoscopy and the results come back good, you don’t have to repeat it again for another 10 years.
Check These Every Four Years:
6. Blood Pressure & Cholesterol
High blood pressure is the number one cause of stroke in men, and high cholesterol can also lead to serious cardiovascular problems, like a heart attack or stroke. Because of this, checking them regularly and controlling them with medication (if necessary) are simple steps that can help you avoid many unwanted health issues.
While blood pressure can be checked regularly, or the very least annually, cholesterol should be checked by blood test every three to five years for men younger than 50, and then every year after 50.
Check These Often or As Needed
7. Testicular Cancer
Testicular cancer is most common in men ages 13 to 20 and 35 to 40 years old. Unlike prostate cancer, testicular does present with a common symptom: a painless lump or mass in the testicle.
The good news is that the five-year survival rate is as high as 99 percent when the cancer is still local to the testicles. Those rates drop to 73 percent if cancer has spread to other organs or lymph nodes away from the original tumor, underscoring the importance of early detection.
While some men may not experience any physical symptoms until the cancer is advanced, the most common signs and symptoms of testicular cancer include the following:
- Swelling or a painless lump in one or both testicles
- Pain or discomfort in the testicles or scrotum
- Changes in how the testicles feel
- A dull ache in the groin area or lower abdomen
- A sudden build-up of fluid in the scrotum
There is no routine guideline for screening when it comes to testicular cancer, so performing a self-exam monthly is the best way to stay on top of your health.
The ACS recommends starting the exam after you get out of the bath or shower. Check one testicle at a time, rolling the testicle gently between your fingers and thumb. Feel for lumps, bumps, changes in size, or anything that seems out of the ordinary.
If any of the symptoms above are present, schedule an appointment with your doctor for a physical exam and any necessary diagnostic testing, including ultrasound, blood test for tumor markers, or surgery.
If you have a family history of cardiac disease, or you already have elevated cholesterol or high blood pressure, echocardiograms or cardiac stress tests can test for heart damage. An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce images of your heart and allows your doctor to see your heart beating and pumping blood.
9. Liver function tests
Liver function tests (also known as a liver panel) are blood tests that measure different enzymes, proteins, and other substances made by the liver. These tests check the overall health of your liver and can signal any disease or damage.
10. Thyroid function
The thyroid, a small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck just under the Adam’s apple, performs many important functions for your body. It manufactures hormones that help regulate energy production and metabolism, but having too little or too much of these hormones can have a major impact on your health and well-being.
More than 12 percent of Americans develop a thyroid condition in their lifetime. However, up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition, according to the American Thyroid Association. This is due to the oftentimes vague or seemingly unrelated symptoms that tend to arise when your thyroid function is off. While the symptoms can be vague, the impact of undiagnosed thyroid disease can put you at risk for certain serious conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis and infertility.
If you suspect you are having issues with your thyroid, your physician will physically check your thyroid gland and look for any changes, such as smooth or dry skin, swelling, slower or faster reflexes, tremors or a slow or rapid heart rate. Then they will follow up with blood tests, the TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) test and T4 tests, to confirm or deny any suspicions they may have.
Recommended screenings may vary based on your individual risk factors and family history. Talk to your provider about which screenings you should have, and how frequently you should have them. If it’s been a while since your last checkup, it’s even important to see your provider this year so you can rest assured your health is taken care of.
“I know it’s easy to push off care when you feel like nothing is wrong, but we want you to come in even if you’re not having any outstanding issues that way we can get out ahead of something before it becomes a bigger deal versus trying to do some damage control once you’re already experiencing issues,” Smitherman adds. “I love having a relationship with my patients so that they know they can trust me. When you have a trusting relationship with your provider, you’re more likely to come in and seek care, whether you’re having an issue or you’re just coming in for your annual exam.”
Finding a physician who can partner with you for your health is essential. We can help find a physician that’s appropriate and convenient for you. Call 1-877-THR-WELL (847-9355) or visit TexasHealth.org/FindaProvider today.