Health screenings are an essential part of maintaining your overall health and well-being, especially as you age. They are vital tools in the prevention and early detection of illnesses and diseases that may otherwise go unnoticed or untreated. Motivated by this fact, we turn to John Falatko, DO, PPG – Internal Medicine, for more on the preventative checkups and age-appropriate health screenings men should be getting now, so they have more time for the life they want later.
Why are health screenings for men so important?
Preventive health is one of the most important things we do. If you asked 100 patients, “Is it better to never have a disease or to have a disease and get treated for it?” I bet all 100 would say, “Never have the disease.” That is the entire purpose of prevention. The more disease we prevent, the better the lives of our patients.
Health screenings are very important in the arena of prevention. We screen for diseases that are typically burdensome and detrimental to health. For example, in men, we screen mainly for cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. The screening tests we use have several key characteristics. First, they should be sensitive enough to catch as many cases as possible, particularly in the early stages. Second, they should be affordable. Third, they should be widely available. Finally, when the early-stage disease is detected, we can intervene to limit or irradicate the disease.
What are the recommended screenings for men at each stage of life?
Screening is dependent upon several factors. A person’s age, current state of health and family history play a significant role in determining what to screen for and when to do it. Let’s take a look at the suggested screenings for men at each stage of life:
- 20s and 30s: There are a few screenings that take place in your 20s and 30s. Overweight patients or patients with a strong family history of heart disease will have cardiovascular disease screening at this age. We generally do this through blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar measurements during your annual physical. Most individuals starting around age 30 should have a skin assessment to screen for different forms of skin cancer. Healthy males without a strong family history of heart disease should have these tests done starting at age 40.
- 50s: Men in their 50’s should begin screening for colon cancer. We do this by way of a colonoscopy which is the gold standard. There are stool sample tests for individuals who are not quite ready to have a colonoscopy. African American males, and males with a family history of colon cancer, should begin screening at age 45. If an immediate family member developed colon cancer at a young age, we recommend they get screened 10 years before the age of the family member who developed cancer.
- 55 and over: Men over 55 should undergo lung cancer screening if they are current smokers or have smoked for 30 years or more. This test is performed with a low radiation CT scan of the chest. Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death among men. Sadly, most lung cancers get diagnosed in advanced stages. The only chance for cure is early detection, which is done primarily through these screening programs.
- Additional screenings: Prostate cancer screening is controversial. The test we use to screen for prostate cancer is the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, but it causes fewer deaths than lung and colon cancer. Early detection reduces the disease burden from prostate cancer (less treatment) at the cost of complications related to surgery or radiation. I urge my African American patients and patients with a strong family history of prostate cancer or other cancer syndromes to get screened since the disease occurs more frequently within these groups. For men who do not fall into these categories, I discuss the issues above, so they can make an informed decision and choose for themselves.
Furthermore, we typically screen men for these diseases up to the age of 75. If a patient remains healthy up to that point, I usually continue screening until it no longer makes sense regarding their overall health. Finally, we do not recommend routinely screening for carotid artery disease, peripheral vascular disease or coronary artery disease with a HeartSmart scan, without consulting your doctor first.
Are there any health screenings men can do at home before going to the doctor?
There are few screenings men can carry out at home, but there are two self-exams they can do. The first is a skin assessment, which we recommend doing 2-3 times per year. Taking a simple inventory of your skin and looking for any changes in the color, size and shape of moles or other skin lesions could help detect the early signs of skin cancer. The second is a testicular exam. We suggest performing this periodically to check for testicular cancer. Most testicular cancers get detected by the patient and not the doctor during routine physicals.
Are there any health changes men should watch for, and what action should they take?
Cardiovascular disease is, and will likely always be, the number one killer in men. Recurrent chest pains, fatigue and/or shortness of breath during exertion are ominous signs of trouble. Also, if you exercise regularly and suddenly have difficulty getting through your workouts, there is cause for concern. I would encourage anyone experiencing these symptoms to speak with their doctor immediately.
What are some other ways men can prevent disease while improving their overall health?
I can’t stress enough the importance of avoiding smoking. Smoking is the leading cause of 13 different cancers, heart disease and lung disease. It is the most dangerous thing you can do to your body, and you only get one. Besides, you will have a hard enough time with the ailments that strike at random throughout your life. So please, don’t burden your body with unnecessary disease.
Also, stay in shape. Obesity is the cause of so many diseases that are difficult to treat or are unable to treat. It can make your life miserable. Once you gain weight, it is tough to get rid of it. If you are out of shape, start working on getting healthier, one pound at a time. Your body will love you for it.
Moreover, a man’s body needs to be active. It was built for it. Men also need to compete. Competition and physical activity are critical to a man’s psyche. It is so important for your mental health. Why do you think so many men play golf? So, find an activity that you enjoy, and that will keep you in shape while allowing you to compete.
Where can men turn if they have further questions or concerns regarding their health?
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) is a great place to start if you want to learn more. Additionally, the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association have informative websites regarding disease prevention. Finally, your primary care provider is also a great resource if you have questions or are unsure of where to start.
The most important thing men can do is to get screened. It’s a simple visit to your provider. Don’t fall victim to a disease that a 30-minute doctor’s visit could have prevented.