[Editor's note: Posting this blog item for Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group.]
By Dr. Mushir Hassan, internist, Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group-Elmbrook Internal Medicine in Brookfield, WI.
Father’s Day is June 17, and one gift you can give your dad is to encourage them to take charge of their health. According to a recent Men’s Health magazine report, one-third of men in the U.S. would not go to the doctor, even if they were experiencing signs of major health problems, such as shortness of breath or chest pain.
The top thing men (and women) can do to help catch and address chronic health issues early is to get an exam by your primary care doctor. Just as you would have your car maintained to avoid a mechanical issue, an annual “tune-up” gives your doctor a chance to assess your risks and perform general screening tests to help catch things like diabetes, hypertension and other health issues before they become advanced. I’ve heard from patients that it is easier to schedule their exam on their birthday or birthday week, so it becomes an “automatic” recurrence on their calendar.
So, here are some key tests men should talk to their doctor about:
1) Checking your Heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for young men, other than auto accidents and being shot. If you test early, you can catch heart disease long before you develop it. Tests to talk to your doctor about include:
- Checking your blood pressure. Blood pressure is the most important risk factor and one that’s easiest to control. Normal blood pressure is 115 over 70. If it’s more than 130 over 80 that’s a red flag.
- Determine your cholesterol levels. The fasting blood test for blood fats and blood sugar helps find your levels for the good cholesterol (HDL), the bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides. A fasting sugar is also a screen for diabetes.
- “The Tape Measure test.” You might balk, but this is a real indicator of your heart risk. If you are 40 inches or more around your waist, it’s a red flag for heart disease. It is also likely an indicator of the need for more regular physical activity.
2) Testicular Exam. Men between ages 15 and 40 years should have a testicular exam. Your doctor can also help you learn how to do a self-exam. As we ask women to do monthly breast exams, so should men do regular testicular self-exams. This is a rare cancerm but one that has over a 90 percent cure rate if caught early.
3) PSA Test and Rectal Exam. Beginning at age 50, men should start talking to their doctor about screening for prostate cancer. That includes a rectal exam and a blood test called the prostate-specific antigen test (PSA). Start testing can begin earlier if you have a family history of prostate cancer or you are of African-American descent. Discuss with your doctor the risks/benefits and current thinking of how a PSA figures into your personal health profile.
4) Colonoscopy. Starting at age 50, men should consider getting a colonoscopy to test for polyps and other signs of colon and rectal cancers, and for many that means a test every ten years. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that patients who received colonoscopies and were tracked for as long as 20 years had a reduced death rate from colon cancer by more than 50 percent. Simply stated, this study supports what doctors have been saying all along: colonoscopies can save lives. Still, only about 6 in 10 adults are up to date on getting screened for colorectal cancer, according to federal estimates. That means 40% of the population who needs a colonoscopy or other colon cancer screening is not up to date.
5) Skin Exam. Skin cancer is preventable with use of sunscreen. It is recommended that men have a head-to-toe skin exam by their health care provider to watch for early signs of skin cancer. Some physicians advocate seeing a dermatologist once every 2-3 years for a full skin exam, especially those who spend summer outdoors, such as golfers, boaters, sunbathers, and gardeners.