Preventive Health Screenings for Men
by J. M. Pressley
First published: September 27, 2007
Men need to get regular checkups as they get older. With some illnesses, that ounce of prevention is the only real cure.
We've all heard the adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A healthy diet and lifestyle can lower a man's risk for all kinds of ailments later on in life. We have control over certain things in our lives, whether it's giving up cigarettes, buckling up the seatbelt, or taking a few minutes each day to exercise. For the majority of younger men, those steps suffice to keep us in good enough health. The human body is remarkably resilient, after all, and is built to withstand the rigors of everyday life well into a man's thirties.
Unfortunately, as most men reach their forties, that resiliency changes. There is no cure for aging, and though early adoption of a healthy lifestyle can help, men need to be aware of conditions that can lead to serious quality of life issues down the road if unchecked. It is paramount that men get regular checkups as they get older. With some illnesses, that ounce of prevention is the only real cure.
This is generally the period of greatest health for most men, especially in their twenties. While checkups and examinations may not be entirely necessary from a physical standpoint, they can help develop good habits for wellness later on in life. One illness more prevalent in younger men is testicular cancer; early detection makes it highly curable, but it requires routine checking for lumps. This is also a good time to test for high blood pressure (140/90 or higher), particularly if there is a family history of it. By the mid-thirties, men should also have their cholesterol levels tested regularly, as cholesterol is a prime contributor to heart disease and diabetes.
Fortunately for a majority of men, illness is much less a cause of death than accidents or crime. However, the body begins to feel the ravages of long-term smoking, drinking, or overeating. Changing these habits is the best path to increased life expectancy (and quality of life). As a man turns 40, he should get a baseline eye examination to check for problems and evaluate changes in vision, with future eye exams scheduled every 2-4 years. He may also need to get an electrocardiogram during this time to detect any abnormal conditions (arrhythmia, murmurs) with his heart. Men with family histories including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or other serious conditions should consult with their doctors to determine whether they need to begin early testing. Now is also a good time for men who spend a great deal of time outdoors to begin checking for skin cancers.
Routine physical examinations take on greater importance during a man's fifties. The two most important screenings are for prostate and colorectal cancers. Prostate screenings combine a Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) and a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test, to be done annually (more specific tests will occur if any abnormalities are detected). Also, men should be aware that colorectal cancer is the second-leading cancer fatality among adults aged 50 and older. It's also highly curable when caught early; men should have an annual Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT), with a colonoscopy every 5-10 years to screen for polyps. Men in their fifties will also want to continue with eye exams; it's also recommended that they establish routine hearing exams approximately every three years.
Ages 60 and older
Illnesses and their complications increase significantly for older men. In addition to the monitoring and testing mentioned above, men 60 and older are advised to have an annual urinalysis to aid in early detection of diabetes, urinary tract cancer, and a host of other conditions. Eye exams should occur more frequently every (1-2 years) in men over 65 to assess vision loss and detect cataracts or glaucoma. Men aged 65-75 should be screened once for abdominal aortic aneurysm if they have ever been a smoker (100 or more cigarettes in their lifetime). Also, as the need increases for prescription medications, older men should work closely with physicians and pharmacists to ensure that negative drug interactions are kept to a minimum.
Establishing good habits—and a good rapport with physicians—early on can contribute to a long, healthy life. Preventive health screenings play a pivotal role in this strategy. So many conditions are treatable with early detection, and investing in prevention is added insurance against the physical, emotional, and financial costs that come with serious illnesses. Routine exams can pay enormous dividends in the long run.