June is Men’s Health Month, and we’re currently in the middle of National Men’s Health Week. Passed by Congress in 1994, Men’s Health Week is celebrated each year in the week leading up to Father’s Day. It is sponsored by the Men’s Health Network, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to reaching men, boys and their families with health awareness messages and tools.
“Compared to similarly-aged women, men are less likely to have a regular doctor and health insurance and are more likely to put off routine checkups or delay seeing a health provider after experiencing symptoms,” said Darryl Davidson, director of Men's Health for the Northwest Health Center in Milwaukee, Wis. Given this reality, what can you do to either focus on your own health or help your male friends and loved ones focus on theirs?
Health screenings are a great way to avoid illnesses as well as catching them before they have a chance to advance. Simply put, health screenings are various tests a doctor might perform to look for signs of illness. They come in all shapes and sizes, depending upon what your doctor is looking for and what your risk factor is for a particular disease.
Some are non-invasive — for instance, the blood pressure screening. We’re all familiar with the sphygmomanometer (say that three times fast), otherwise known as the blood pressure cuff.
A nurse checks my blood pressure every time I go in for a doctor’s appointment. However, if you do not have occasion to visit the doctor frequently, you might want to schedule a physical, in which your doctor will do a general check into your overall health. The Men’s Health Network recommends annual blood pressure checks for men of all ages. If you have a family history of high blood pressure — also known as hypertension — or risk factors such as smoking or a sedentary lifestyle, then discuss it with your doctor, as he/she might want you to be screened more often.
A physical is also a great opportunity to discuss any diseases for which you might be at risk, how your doctor can screen for them and when he/she wants to do that.
Beyond the blood pressure screening, some tests are done via a blood draw. Cholesterol screenings, also called lipid panels, are one example of this. Your doctor will draw a small amount of blood and analyze your cholesterol levels to determine your relative risk of cardiovascular disease. The Mayo Clinic recommends that adults get screened every five years once they turn 18. As with blood pressure, risk factors for heart disease will increase this frequency. If you are overweight, a smoker or have diabetes – or if you are a man age 45 or older – your doctor will likely want more frequent screenings.
I personally get screened for both blood pressure and cholesterol at least twice a year, because I happen to have a condition that is becoming increasingly prevalent in the U.S. – type 2 diabetes. I was diagnosed in my late 30’s, largely because I was overweight, began experiencing symptoms and had a family history of the disease. However, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine, recommends that overweight or obese adults age 40 to 70 be screened for abnormal blood glucose as part of a cardiovascular risk assessment. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) MedlinePlus recommends screenings every three years for adults age 45 and older – more often if your blood pressure is at the elevated level of 135/80 mm Hg or higher. Diabetes is also screened via blood draw.
Two other important screenings are for prostate cancer and colorectal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, recommends men get screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 50 — earlier if they have a family history of the disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colorectal cancer screenings can be done any of several ways. Your doctor could analyze a stool sample in the laboratory, for instance, or examine your colon and rectum via sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy for polyps or other abnormalities. It’s important to discuss the options with your doctor.
Prostate cancer is second only to skin cancer as being the most common cancer in men, according to the ACS. The organization’s recommendations for screening are based upon risk. If your risk of prostate cancer is average, i.e., you don’t have any risk factors or family history, then get screened when you turn 50. If you are African-American, or if you have a father, brother or son who was diagnosed with the disease before the age of 65, then you should get screened beginning at age 45. If you have two or more such relatives, then your screenings should begin at 40.
The CDC said there are two common ways to screen for prostate cancer. One is called the digital rectal exam, in which your doctor feels for abnormalities in your prostate. The other measures the levels of PSA, a substance produced by your prostate, in your blood to determine if you might have or be at risk for having prostate cancer.
One healthcare screening that you might not be aware of because it is typically considered a women’s health issue is osteoporosis. It’s also one of the few screenings that could be directly associated with mobility, as it could affect the bones and joints in your legs and hips.
Alcohol abuse, smoking, gastrointestinal disorders and a lack of mobility are all risk factors for osteoporosis in men, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), which is part of the NIH. Age, the use of certain medications like glucocorticoids and low testosterone levels are also risk factors. NIAMS said that osteoporosis is often not diagnosed in men until after a fracture occurs. That’s why they recommend discussing it with your doctor if you have any of the risk factors.
The conditions described here are only a fraction of those for which middle-aged and older men should be screened – or at least aware of. The Men’s Health Network has an excellent checklist available for download at http://www.menshealthnetwork.org/library/pdfs/GetItChecked.pdf. Other resources and references are described below.
And, of course, talk with your doctor about any and all diseases for which you might be at risk as well as the screening recommendations he/she might have for you.
RESOURCES AND REFERENCES
The Men’s Health Network
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
The American Cancer Society
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The Mayo Clinic
The National Institutes of Health (NIH)
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF)