You don’t need statistics to tell you that men are more likely to avoid the doctor than women. Women are, in fact, 100 percent more likely to see a doctor for examinations, screenings, and preventive health consults, even though they’re far less likely to die from one of the top 10 causes of death.
“Many men are lost for the years in between their pediatrician and when they have their first health scare in their 50s,” says Leslie Schlachter, director of the Mount Sinai Men’s Health Program. “It shouldn’t take a scare to get you to the doctor.”
“Preventive health checkups are associated with healthier men. These visits also can lead to dangerous cancers being caught early enough to save lives.”
Here are the checkups you should be making time for now, so that you can have more time, period.
1. Blood Sugar Check
“Yearly checks for glucose levels are imperative for men to decrease their likelihood of significant cardiacdisease,” says Schlachter. Diabetes, a chronic disease characterized by high blood sugars, greatly increases your risk of heart disease and other complications such as kidney damage and erectile dysfunction due to nerve damage. Annual glucose testing serves as the best method of diagnosing diabetes before it gets too advanced.
“Many men with the beginnings of diabetes and/or a diagnosis of diabetes can be managed appropriately with diet and exercise,” Schlachter adds. “If lifestyle management with diet and exercise is not sufficient, there are oral medicines and/or insulin that can be used.”
2. Skin Check
Men with a family history of skin cancer, or who had significant sunburns when they were younger, are at high risk for skin cancer. Schlachter says skin cancer can affect men of any age.
“It is very important to get yearly skin checks by a dermatologist. At home, men should keep a close eye on their moles and birthmarks, as slight changes can signify concerning etiology,” she said. “Consistent use of sunscreen is paramount.”
3. PSA Test
One in seven men will develop prostate cancer. Other than skin cancer, it is the most common form of cancer in American men. The prostate-specific antigen, or PSA blood level test, along with digital rectal exams (DREs), are the best way to detect prostate cancer.
“All men 50 to the age of 70 should be checked on a yearly basis,” she said. “If a man has a family history of prostate cancer or an unknown history, PSA testing should begin at the age of 40.”
A colonoscopy is a rite of passage for men (and women) over the age of 50, as that’s when colon cancer risk increases. Other risk factors include a medical history of inflammatory bowel disease or a diet high in animal fat.
“If a man has no family history of colon cancer, a screening colonoscopy should be done at the age of 50. Future colonoscopies are done every three to 10 years, based on the results of each colonoscopy,” Schlachter says.
5. Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Check
High blood pressure is the number one cause of stroke in men, and it is very serious if left unmanaged. High cholesterol can also lead to serious cardiovascular problems, like heart attack or stroke. “Get a thorough exam with basic blood work,” says Schlachter. “Many local pharmacies are able to check your blood pressure with no appointment needed.”
Men 20 and over should have their cholesterol checked every three to five years, and then yearly after the age of 50.
Many deadly cardiac risk factors are caught with simple cholesterol testing and blood pressure monitoring, as well as weight management.
But if there is a family history of cardiac disease, or if you already have known elevated cholesterol or high blood pressure, echocardiograms or cardiac stress tests can ensure that there is not significant heart damage, says Schlachter.
7. Liver Enzyme Test
Liver enzyme testing is part of standard blood work and looks for any damage to the liver that can come from various sources, including alcohol — men, after all, drink more alcohol than women, on average.
“It is important for men to have these enzymes checked, as they can run high due to over-the-counter medicines, alcohol consumption, inflammatory disorders, thyroid disorders, obesity, and some toxicities,” Schlachter says.
8. TSH Test
Your thyroid helps every cell in your body by releasing hormones that regulate metabolism. Any changes in the hormones it produces can impact a man’s life, and cause weight gain, lethargy, exhaustion, or fatigue. A blood test called a thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) test can be done by your doctor to check your thyroid’s function.
“Many of the symptoms of an underactive or overactive thyroid unfortunately are symptoms that many men feel are ‘part of life,’” Schlachter says. But if testing shows abnormalities, they can usually be fixed through medication.
9. Lung Screenings
Lung cancer is the most preventable of all cancers. Ninety percent of the time, it is found in people who smoke. The rest are typically people with a genetic predisposition to developing it or people who’ve been exposed to secondhand smoke or caustic chemicals.
Prevention is key, says Schlachter: “Lung cancer is often an incidental finding on scans that are done for an alternate reason. Screening for lung cancer is controversial, as the well-accepted forms of scanning are high in radiation,” she said. “Lung cancer experts are looking at lower-dose CAT scans, which may be the future of lung cancer screening.” An annual chest X-ray is not recommended as a screening tool.
In between doctor visits, Schlachter says there are many different ways that men — well, everyone actually — can prevent disease.
- Exercise: Work out three to four times every week, for 30 to 45 minutes. Include a mix of cardiovascular exercise and weight training.
- Balanced diet: Eat a balanced diet that’s low in fat and includes a mix of vegetables, fruit, protein, fiber, lean meats, and complex carbohydrates, and limits processed foods and added sugars.
- Water: Stay hydrated by drinking adequate amounts of fluids.
- Don’t smoke: Ninety percent of lung cancer diagnoses are in people who smoke. Smoking also increases the risk of many other cancers and chronic diseases.
- Limit drinking: Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
- Sleep: You need about seven hours per night at the very least.