Screening out men's major health threats
You may think of the doctor's office as someplace you go when you're sick. But it's important to have an occasional visit when you're well too.
All men should have a few routine screening tests. These tests can help catch health problems early, before they've progressed enough to cause symptoms. And treatment in these early stages is more likely to be fully effective.
You can get screened for lots of diseases, but most men only need screening for a few. The diseases you need screening for, and how frequently you should be screened, varies according to your health and risk factors. The following tests are recommended for most men:
Blood pressure tests. A number of health organizations, such as the American Heart Association (AHA), recommend blood pressure checks at least every two years and more often if it is high. Keeping your blood pressure at safe levels will reduce your risk of heart disease, the leading killer of American men.
Cholesterol screening. The AHA recommends cholesterol checks once every four to six years starting at age 20.
High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease.
Colorectal cancer screening. Regular screening for this cancer should start at age 45, and maybe sooner if you're at high risk.
Your doctor can help you decide on the best type of screening test for you.
Prostate exams. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends talking to your doctor about prostate cancer screening when you turn 50 years old. The prostate specific antigen (PSA) test and digital rectal examination (DRE) can uncover this cancer at an early stage. But screening has drawbacks, too, and some groups don't recommend routine screening for this cancer. Your doctor can help you decide if it's right for you.
For men at high risk, such as African-American men and men with a close family member who had prostate cancer at an early age, the ACS recommends the discussion with your doctor start at age 45 or earlier.
Blood glucose testing. All men age 45 and older should think about getting screened for diabetes, says the National Institutes of Health. A simple blood test can reveal if you have diabetes or its precursor, prediabetes. Identifying and treating these conditions in their early stages helps prevent serious damage to organs all over the body.
This test is even more important for men with risk factors such as a family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol or high body weight. You're also at higher risk if your family background is African American, American Indian, Asian American, Pacific Islander or Hispanic.
Skin exams. The ACS recommends monthly self-exams to look for growths or changes that could be skin cancer. Signs to look for include any type of change in a mole or freckle, or a growth with uneven colors, borders or shape, or that is larger around than a pencil eraser. Check your whole body, head to toe, and consult your doctor about anything suspicious.
Depression screening. Screening for this serious, treatable disease should be a part of everyone's regular healthcare, according to Mental Health America.
If you've felt down, hopeless or uninterested in the things you usually enjoy for two weeks straight, it's even more important to ask your doctor about screening for depression.