According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, American men are 25 percent less likely to visit the doctor than women. On average they tend to drink more, smoke more, engage in more high-risk activities and statistically don’t live as long as women.
So why do men delay, postpone or just forgo those annual doctor’s visits?
Mark Bulgarelli, DO, internal medicine physician at Scripps Clinic, said this statistic is often a result of men’s denial that there is a problem.
“Generally women are more in tune with health issues and learn from a young age to receive regular check-ups," Dr. Bulgarelli says. "Men learn something different and generally don’t seek care until there is an issue. It’s the ‘I feel fine, must be fine’ mentality.”
Denying there are health problems leaves the potential for long-term, detrimental health issues, particularly with silent killers like heart disease. Like their wives, girlfriends and loved ones, it’s imperative that men engage in regular, personal examinations and receive routine medical exams.
“Make it simple and easy,” said Carol Kashefi, MD, urologist at Scripps Clinic. “Make the appointments less about ‘fixing’ a problem and more about maintaining good health.”
Medical experts recommend men 18 to 49 years of age visit the doctor every 18 months or more often if they have an underlying health condition. Men over 50 should see the doctor annually.
And parents should make check-ups part of a yearly routine, particularly given the growing rate of diseases impacting young men such as testicular cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.
In the U.S., heart disease is the leading cause of death in men. With the appropriate tests and lifestyle habits, men can reduce their risks exponentially. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve your heart health.
“Obesity is often accompanied by high blood pressure, high cholesterol and glucose intolerance, which can all lead to heart disease,” Dr. Bulgarelli says. “We cannot change genetics, but there are things we can do to manage our overall health and many of these risk factors.”
Blood pressure is an important risk factor and the easiest to control. To check your blood pressure, you don’t have to step foot in a doctor’s office. Many pharmacies and grocery stores have screening machines.
Usually they provide more accurate readings, because people typically experience less anxiety while shopping than they do while visiting a doctor’s office.
Another test recommended annually is the fasting blood test to determine your good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL). High levels of HDL protect you from heart attacks.
Skin cancer is the most common of all cancer types. More than one million skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the U.S. That’s more than cancers of the prostate, breast, lung, colon, uterus, ovaries and pancreas combined.
The American Cancer Society recommends that men 20 and older have their skin checked on an annual basis. It’s also important to check your own skin, preferably once a month. By taking a monthly account of your moles and freckles, you can learn the pattern of your moles, blemishes and freckles so that you’ll notice any changes.
Although colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths, it is also highly preventable and treatable when detected early. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 90 percent of those with colorectal cancer can be cured if the cancer is caught early, but only 30 to 40 percent of people over age 50 receive regular screenings.
Although most fear the uncomfortable nature of the test, it is the most effective in identifying future or current colon cancer risks. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends men begin receiving screenings at age 50. Special screening programs are used for those with a family history of colorectal cancer.
Prostate exams usually include a blood test called a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test and a digital rectal examination. The American Urological Association encourages men to have a PSA test at age 40 in order to establish a baseline reading.
However, African Americans and men who have a first-degree relative who was diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age are at higher risk of the disease and should consult their physician about individualized screening recommendations.
Dr. Kashefi said there are many things men can do to improve their prostate health as they age, including eating foods that contain high fiber, low fats, fruits and vegetables.
“Selenium and other micronutrients found in many vegetables are great at improving prostate and heart health,” Dr. Kashefi says. “Although you can take them in pill form, the most beneficial way to absorb these nutrients is from actually eating vegetables rich in minerals, including broccoli, brussels sprouts and tomatoes.”
Testicular cancer accounts for only about one percent of all cancers in men. However, it is the most common type of cancer in males age 15 to 35, according to the Testicular Cancer Resource Center.
Dr. Kashefi suggests boys begin checking themselves as early as 14, particularly if they have a family history of the disease or have suffered testicular trauma. Adult men should examine themselves on a monthly basis and notify their physicians of any abnormal changes.
The test takes only a few minutes and is easy to do. Most lumps are not a sign of cancer, but any testicular abnormality should be immediately checked by a physician.