Men are generally known to seek medical attention less frequently than women, and delaying such visits can lead to significant health implications.
“Many cancers affecting men have a significantly better prognosis when caught early. Regular check-ups and being aware of body changes are crucial,” says Ramdev Konijeti, MD, a urologist at Scripps Clinic Torrey Pines.
After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer found in men. One in eight men will develop prostate cancer in his lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.
Prostate cancer screenings can go a long way toward detecting the disease; when found early, the five-year survival rate is almost 100 percent.
How often should men get screened? This question has caused debate among doctors, according to Dr. Konijeti.
For many years, doctors urged men age 50 and over to undergo regular exams. Unfortunately, this led to over detection of abnormalities, and more people getting invasive procedures and tests than were necessary,” he says.
Today, cancer experts advise men to discuss prostate cancer screening with their doctor and decide when to start.
The American Cancer Society recommends having this discussion at:
- Age 50 for men with normal risk and a life expectancy of 10+ years
- Age 45, for men at high risk, including African-Americans and those with a family history of prostate cancer
- At 40, for men at even higher risk, with multiple close relatives who had early-onset prostate cancer
Men who want to be checked should have a blood test called PSA for prostate-specific antigen. They may also get a digital rectal exam as part of the check-up.
Screening tests look for possible signs of prostate cancer. If the result is abnormal, more tests are recommended. If no cancer is found, future screenings depend on the PSA blood test.
Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in men and women. Men are more likely to have it, especially those aged 65 to 74. However, about 10.5% of new colorectal cases occur in people younger than 50 and that figure is growing.
In 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force changed its recommendation for colorectal cancer screening for men at average risk for developing the disease. Start at 45 instead of 50.
People at average risk include those who do not have:
- A personal history of colorectal cancer
- A family history of colorectal cancer
- A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease
- A confirmed or suspected hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome
- A personal history of getting radiation to the abdomen or pelvic area to treat a prior cancer
“It’s not something most people want to talk about, but by age 45, you should have a conversation with your doctor about colorectal cancer. It’s so preventable, and the risk goes up as you get older,” says Walter Coyle, MD, head of gastroenterology at Scripps Clinic.
If colorectal cancer is found early, the five-year survival rate is 90%. However, one-third of Americans who should be tested have never been screened.
Different tests can find colorectal cancer. They can be divided into two groups.
Visual exams look at the structure of the colon and rectum for any abnormal areas. They require more preparation and are more invasive than stool tests.
A colonoscopy is done to check for colon cancer. The procedure uses a thin tube with a camera to look at the colon and rectum.
Doctors use special tools during this procedure to take samples or remove suspicious areas. Sedation is needed and the procedure is usually done every 10 years.
“Many may be put off by the preparation required for clinical tests,” Dr. Coyle says. “However, it is a small price to pay for a procedure that can be lifesaving.”
These tests check the stool or feces for signs of cancer. Stool tests are done at home and are less invasive than colonoscopies. If the result is positive or abnormal, a colonoscopy is needed.
Dr. Coyle emphasizes the importance of early detection. “Screening saves lives, it’s as simple as that. Catching cancers early when they’re most treatable can drastically improve survival rates,” he says.
Lung cancer is another major health concern for men. Smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer and is responsible for the vast majority of cases.
Screening is available for high-risk individuals, especially heavy smokers, to detect problems early and improve results.
Testicular cancer is not as common as prostate and colorectal cancer. But it’s actually the most frequently diagnosed cancer in young men. It can be treated successfully if caught early.
Men should also know about skin cancer, bladder cancer, and head and neck cancers, as they are more common in men. Regular self-exams and being aware of the signs and symptoms of these cancers can aid in early detection.