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Health Screening for Men: Why and When You Should Go to the Doctor
If men are reluctant to see their doctors when they are sick, imagine how often they see them when they feel well. However, screenings can provide critical information to help prevent serious medical problems. While there is considerable debate regarding the value of certain routine screening tests for men, most authorities agree that detecting certain diseases before symptoms develop can often decrease the risk of serious illness and even death. Here is a guide to the most commonly recommended screening examinations and tests for men.
There are 4 ways to screen for cancer and precancerous polyps on the inside wall of the rectum and colon. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), beginning at age 50, men of average risk should follow one of these preferred testing schedules:
- Colonoscopy every 10 years
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
- Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years
- CT colonography every 5 years
Another option for men who are unwilling or unable to have the above tests is to have yearly stool tests that detect blood that cannot be seen by looking (called occult blood).
Men who are considered to be at high risk for colorectal cancer may need more frequent screening. High risk includes:
- Personal history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps
- Strong family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- Family history of a hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome
- Personal history of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
If you are at all unsure about your risk status, talk to your doctor about how often you should have colorectal screening.
During a routine exam, the doctor may do a digital rectal exam. The doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to detect any prostate enlargement, nodularity, or asymmetry that may indicate cancer. The exam takes approximately 30-60 seconds.
While it has become a controversial issue, the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test can be used as a screening tool for prostate cancer. Organizations like the US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommend against the PSA test, highlighting the potential harms, like having to undergo unnecessary surgery and the fact that it is also elevated in benign prostatic hypertrophy, which is very common as men age. The ACS and American Urological Society stress the need to make an informed decision about prostate cancer screening.
What should men do? Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of screening. If you decide to be screened, your doctor will do the PSA test with or without the digital rectal exam.
A skin exam can determine if you have any moles or other lesions on the skin that may either be cancerous or precancerous. During a skin exam, which takes 5 minutes and is painless, a primary care physician or dermatologist studies the skin from head-to-toe, including the scalp. Your doctor may choose to biopsy (take a sample for laboratory analysis) any suspicious lesions. Recommendations for timing and frequency of skin cancer screening have not been clearly established.
If you have a history of skin cancer or previously had lesions removed, your doctor may recommend skin exams on a regular basis.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force does not recommend routine screening or self-exam of teens and adults for testicular cancer. However, the American Cancer Society notes that men should have their testicles examined as part of a regular physical exam. Talk to your doctor about screening, self-exams, and risk factors for testicular cancer.
Heart Disease Screening
Blood Pressure Screening
Early detection of high blood pressure is extremely important because the longer high blood pressure goes undetected and untreated, the higher your risk of a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney damage, and blindness.
If you already have high blood pressure (140/90 mm Hg or higher), have it checked according to your doctor's recommendations. If your blood pressure is considered high normal (above 120/80 mm Hg), you should have it checked every year. If your blood pressure is normal (below 120/80 mm Hg), screening every 2 years is usually sufficient.
Your doctor may suggest that you regularly monitor your blood pressure at home.
Cholesterol screening involves a simple blood test to measure your total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Your doctor may also check your level of triglycerides, another fatty substance in the blood. High levels of total and LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol), and low levels of HDL cholesterol significantly increase your risk of atherosclerosis, a condition that may lead to coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, and other serious vascular problems.
All men aged 35 years and older should have their cholesterol checked. If you are aged 20 years or older and have other risk factors for heart disease, you should also have your cholesterol checked.
The American Diabetes Association recommends screening for all adults aged 45 years or older every 3 years, or every year if you are at increased risk. You should also be screened if you are of any age and are overweight or obese or have other risk factors for diabetes.
There are a few different blood tests that can be done to check for diabetes. All can be done at a regular office visit, but some require you to be fasting before you come in.
Infectious Disease Screening
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all people aged 13-64 years old get screened for HIV infection. If you are at high risk for having HIV, you should be screened every year.
At least once a year (preferably twice), a dentist should examine your teeth and gums and check your tongue, lips, and soft tissues in your mouth to determine if you have cavities or problems of the gums, tongue, and mouth. A full set of x-rays should also be taken periodically to pinpoint areas of special concern.
The American Optometric Association recommends an eye examination every 2 years for adults 18-60 years old. Older adults should have yearly eye exams. Also if you wear contact lenses, take medications that can affect the eye, or have diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of eye disease, your eyes should be checked more often. Talk to your doctor if you experience any changes in your vision.
Screening Is Vital for Life-long Good Health
While some of these tests can be embarrassing or uncomfortable, it is important to endure them because they can help prevent common and serious diseases. Keep in mind that if heart disease, cancer, or other major illnesses run in your family, these screenings and examinations are even more important. Encourage the men in your life to be screened as suggested.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
A lifetime of eye health. American Academy of Ophthalmology Eye Smart website. Available at: http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/living/index.cfm. Updated April 28, 2005. Accessed March 4, 2014.
Can testicular cancer be found early? American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/testicularcancer/detailedguide/testicular-cancer-detection. Updated February 13, 2015. Accessed December 14, 2015.
Colorectal cancer screening. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 11, 2015. Accessed December 14, 2015.
Diabetes mellitus type 2 in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 7, 2015. Accessed December 14, 2015.
Final recommendation statement: prostate cancer screening, May 2012. US Preventative Services Task Force website. Available at: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/RecommendationStatementFinal/prostate-cancer-screening. Published May 2012. Accessed December 14, 2015.
Hypercholesterolemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 21, 2015. Accessed December 14, 2015.
Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 24, 2015. Accessed December 14, 2015.
Prostate cancer screening. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 7, 2015. Accessed December 14, 2015.
Recommended eye examination frequency for pediatric patients and adults. American Optometric Association website. Available at: http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/comprehensive-eye-and-vision-examination/recommended-examination-frequency-for-pediatric-patients-and-adults?sso=y. Accessed December 14, 2015.
Skin cancer screening. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/patient/skin-screening-pdq#section/all. Updated May 14, 2015. Accessed December 14, 2015.
Testicular cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 31, 2012. Accessed December 14, 2015.
4/8/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Yee J, Kim DH, Rosen, MP, et al. Colorectal cancer screening. American College of Radiology (ACR) Appropriateness Criteria. Available at: http://www.acr.org/~/media/ACR/Documents/AppCriteria/Diagnostic/ColorectalCancerScreening.pdf. Updated 2013.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 12/2015
- Update Date: 12/14/2015