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It’s A Guy Thing: Get Tested

Vive la différence,” say the French, celebrating the delightful contrasts between the sexes. But when it comes to health, maleness confers a shocking disadvantage.

 

Men’s death rate from cancer is 50 percent higher than women’s, reports the Men’s Health Policy Center. It’s three times as high from HIV/AIDS; twice as high from coronary heart disease. And on average, guys die 5.2 years earlier than women.

 

Why? One piece of the puzzle is avoiding doctor visits and regular preventive tests.

 

According to a 2007 study by the American Academy of Family Physicians, 55 percent of men surveyed haven’t had a physical exam within the past year. Among men 55 and older, 18 percent haven’t been screened for colorectal cancer. More than 25 percent of men wait “as long as possible” before seeking medical care, the study found.

 

A classic example was U.S. Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho. After his family and staff nagged him to get a physical, his doctor diagnosed prostate cancer in 1999. Now a two-time cancer survivor, Crapo told a senate subcommittee in 2005 that “a silent crisis is currently affecting American men,” adding that “American men live shorter and less healthy lives than American women.”

 

Why Do Men Avoid The Doctor?

Since they were little boys, men have been taught to be tough guys when they get hurt. “Big boys don’t cry” when you’re 5 years old may translate to “I should ignore that persistent ache” when you’re 45.

 

Many men cherish their sense of self-reliance and don’t want to be seen as weak. Admitting you have aches and pains or don’t feel good could seem unmanly. And some health tests by their very nature make men feel squeamish.

 

“One of the biggest obstacles to improving the health of men is men themselves,” says Dr. Rick Kellerman, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “Many men are unaware that simple screening tests and lifestyle changes can dramatically improve their quality of life.”

 

In the sections that follow, you’ll learn what basic tests every man should have and how each one can protect his health and potentially save his life.

 

Blood Pressure Check

All men over 18 should have their blood pressure (BP) checked at least every two years.

 

Readings are given as one number (systolic pressure, the force in the arteries during the heartbeat) over a second number (diastolic pressure, the force when the heart is resting). Normal BP is less than 120 over less than 80, according to the American Heart Association.

 

Why screen? High blood pressure signals a greater risk of heart attack and stroke. African-Americans have a greater susceptibility, as do obese people, diabetics, people with kidney disease, those who drink heavily and the elderly. 

 

Blood Cholesterol, Or Complete Lipid Profile

The American Heart Association recommends this blood test at age 20 and a re-test every five years.

 

Men who have diabetes or high blood pressure, who have been diagnosed with heart disease or have a family history, or who smoke may need to be tested more often. The test measures the levels of total cholesterol, “good” (HDL) and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides.

 

Why screen? Elevated total cholesterol and LDL indicate a higher risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. On the other hand, a high level of HDL is an indication of good health.

 

Colonoscopy

With a thin, flexible tube attached to a video camera and a light, a doctor or technician can examine the entire colon, the last section of the digestive tract.

 

Doctors recommend having the first colonoscopy at age 50 and then every 10 years.

 

Why screen? The test indicates the presence of colon cancer or abnormal growths called polyps, which can become malignant. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths. But if polyps are discovered and removed early, this cancer is preventable.

 

Blood Sugar Test

This simple test indicates the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood.

 

A blood-sugar test should be performed at age 45 and then every three years. Patients who have high blood pressure or are obese should be tested sooner.

 

Why screen? The test results can indicate whether you have diabetes or are at risk of developing it. If so, lifestyle changes and/or medication can get the disease under control.

 

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Test

Men between ages 65 and 75 should be tested once if they’ve smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime.

 

The test is noninvasive, using ultrasound to check for abnormally large or swollen blood vessels in the abdomen.

 

Why screen? If an abdominal aortic aneurysm bursts, severe internal bleeding can cause death. But if the problem is detected early, it can be treated or cured.

 

Screening cut the risk of death nearly in half for men ages 65 to 79, according to a 2007 review conducted by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence in England.

 

HIV

If you have any of the risk factors for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), talk to your doctor about scheduling a blood test. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, is the final stage of HIV infection.

 

Risk factors include the following:

 

  • Being treated for a sexually transmitted disease
  • Having had a blood transfusion between 1978 and 1985
  • Having had sex with men after 1975
  • Having unprotected sex with multiple partners
  • Using injected drugs
  • Having a sexual partner (now or in the past) who is HIV-infected, is bisexual or who uses injected drugs

 

Why screen? If HIV infection is discovered early, prescription drugs and medical care can prevent the development of AIDS for many years. And a man who knows he has the disease can avoid infecting others.

 

Prostate Health

Two different tests can help determine whether a man has prostate cancer.

 

Starting at age 50, a man should have a blood test each year to measure the level of PSA, a protein produced by the prostate gland. The doctor will also usually perform a digital rectal exam.

 

Why screen? A high PSA level may indicate prostate cancer or benign enlargement of the gland. Prostate cancer affects one in six men, but is highly curable with early detection.

 

Mole Exam

This one doesn’t hurt.

 

Starting at age 20, men should visually check their moles monthly and have them checked by a doctor every three years. Once a man reaches age 40, he should have moles examined annually.

 

Why screen? More than 1 million skin cancers are diagnosed each year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. If they’re caught early, the survival rate is extremely high.

 

Waist Measurement And BMI Calculation

Two quick and painless measures can indicate whether your level of body fat poses a health hazard.

 

First, monitor your waist measurement. A waist measurement of 40 or more is correlated with a high risk of heart disease. If your waist is expanding, see your doctor—and work on adding activity to your lifestyle as well as reducing your food intake.

 

Second, know your body mass index, or BMI. This measure provides an estimate of total body fat, based on height and weight. If you’re heavily muscled, the results won’t be perfect because the test can’t distinguish between muscular weight and fat. But for most men, it’s a handy benchmark that can indicate whether you’re overweight (BMI of 25 or more) or obese (BMI over 30).

 

Why screen? These tests show whether you’re at risk of developing obesity-related maladies, including diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, gout, gallbladder disease and some cancers. Lifestyle changes and your doctor’s support can help you feel better and live longer.

 

Encourage Men To Get Tested

Setting a good example is probably the best thing employers, partners and friends can do to encourage tough guys to get screening tests and have regular medical checkups.

 

If you’re a business owner, a wife or a partner, let the men in your life know that you’ve had a colonoscopy, for example. And if you had to have polyps removed, mention your sense of relief that you’ve taken steps to eliminate the risk of cancer.

 

Wives and girlfriends have a major part to play. A 2007 report by the American Academy of Family Physicians indicates that 78 percent of men who do go to the doctor were encouraged to do so by their spouses. Significant others can focus on how getting needed tests helps a man protect his family by safeguarding his own health.

 

Employers can also help by making it clear it’s OK for staffers to schedule medical appointments during the day.

 

 

For More Information

Learn more about men’s health issues at these Web sites.

 

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s “Real Men Wear Gowns” campaign

www.ahrq.gov/realmen/

 

Men’s Health Network

www.menshealthnetwork.org/

 

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s BMI calculator

www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/bmicalc.htm