Why you should get over your dread of the doctor right now
Unlike women, who are often referred to a gynecologist or women’s health specialist by their pediatrician for immediate reproductive health needs, adult men frequently go without a routine physical exam until their 30s or 40s. But a heightened awareness of lower life expectancies and higher suicide rates, along with campaigns like Men’s Health Month, are motivating men to schedule screenings that help detect disease.
The importance of an annual or bi-annual physical exam
Regular checkups establish a line of communication with your doctor so you can catch health issues early. They are also a way to check several of the most recommended men’s health screenings off your to-do list.
At a physical exam, you’ll discuss your lifestyle and your doctor will ask you about depression, diet, exercise, alcohol and tobacco use and exposure to infectious diseases. They’ll conduct a vision exam, a hearing test and make sure you are up-to-date on immunizations. If you need lab tests, those will be ordered.
Blood pressure screening
Most men should have their blood pressure checked at least once every two years. If you have diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems or other related conditions, your doctor will most likely recommend checking it once a year.
A blood pressure check is included in annual exams, but you can get screened at any time. Neighborhood pharmacies and grocery stores offer onsite blood pressure screenings and sometimes workplaces offer blood pressure screenings as part of their health and wellness programming.
Cholesterol screening and heart disease prevention
High cholesterol puts you at risk of a heart attack. At your annual exam, your doctor will put in an order for a cholesterol test (lipid panel) if needed. This will require fasting followed by a blood draw at a diagnostic lab.
The recommended age to start cholesterol screening is between 20 and 35. If your cholesterol levels are normal, you won’t need another screening for five years. But, if you have certain related conditions, you may need to be checked more often.
Two of the primary risk factors for diabetes will be covered at your annual exam: blood pressure and body mass index (BMI). If your blood pressure is 140/80mm Hg or higher, and your BMI is greater than 25, your doctor will recommend a diabetes screening to test your blood sugar levels.
Diabetes testing requires a blood draw in a lab, and it can be done at the same time as your cholesterol test. If your blood pressure and BMI are normal, screenings are recommended every three years after the age of 40. Asian Americans with BMIs of 23 or higher should be screened at an earlier age.
Colorectal cancer screening
Regular colorectal screening is recommended for men beginning at age 45. Your doctor may recommend screening at an earlier age if you have a family history of colon cancer or polyps or have been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. If you are 76 or older, talk to your doctor about the need to continue screenings.
What happens at a colorectal cancer screening? Several types of colorectal tests that are done with varying frequency. Here’s what you can expect and when to expect it:
- Every year: fecal occult blood (stool-based) test, immunochemical test (FIT) done via a stool sample
- Every three years: stool DNA test
- Every five years: flexible sigmoidoscopy (including a digital rectal exam), double contrast barium enema, CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy)
- Every 10 years: colonoscopy
Skin cancer screening
Skin cancer is easier to treat and less likely to be disfiguring if it is found early. The American Cancer Society recommends regular skin self-exams beginning in your 20s. If you find a mole or growth that is concerning, your doctor can examine it and refer you to a dermatologist if necessary.
Osteoporosis risk factors include low body weight, long-term steroid use, heavy alcohol use, smoking or a bone fracture after the age of 50. If you are over the age of 50 and any of those risk factors apply to you, or you have a family history of osteoporosis, discuss the need for a screening with your doctor.
Prostate cancer screening
Routine prostate exams are no longer recommended for most men with no symptoms. The benefits of testing have not been shown to outweigh the potential harms of testing and treatments. However, after age 50, prostate health should be a topic discussed with your provider. If you are African American with a family history of prostate cancer in a first degree relative younger than 65, your doctor may recommend a PSA blood test beginning at 45.
Additional men’s health exams to consider
Depending on your risk factors, your doctor may recommend additional health screenings for lung cancer screening, testicular health and abdominal aortic aneurysms. It’s also important to visit the dentist twice a year for a cleaning and exam, which can identify issues such as tooth decay and gum disease.