Health Screening for Men: Why and When You Should Go to the Doctor

IMAGE If men are reluctant to see their physicians when they are sick, imagine how often they see them when they feel well. However, screenings can provide critical information to help prevent serious medical problems. While there is considerable debate regarding the value of certain routine screening tests for men, most authorities agree that detecting certain diseases before symptoms develop can often decrease the risk of serious illness and even death. Here is a guide to the most commonly recommended screening examinations and tests for men.

Cancer Screening

Colorectal Cancer

There are four ways to screen for cancer, and more commonly, precancerous polyps, on the inside wall of the rectum and colon. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), beginning at age 50, men of average risk should follow one of these preferred testing schedules:Another option for men who are unwilling or unable to have the above tests is having the stool checked yearly for signs of cancer.Men who are considered to be at high risk for colorectal cancer may need more frequent screening. High risk includes:
  • Personal history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps
  • Strong family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
  • Family history of a hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome
  • Personal history of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
If you are at all unsure about your risk status, talk to your doctor about how often you should have colorectal screening.

Prostate Cancer

During a routine exam, the doctor may do a digital rectal exam. The doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to detect any prostate enlargement, nodularity, or asymmetry that may indicate cancer. The exam takes approximately 30-60 seconds. While it has become a controversial issue, the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test can be used as a screening tool for prostate cancer. Organizations like the US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommend against the PSA test, highlighting the potential harms, like having to undergo unnecessary surgery. The ACS and American Urological Society stress the need to make an informed decision about prostate cancer screening. What should men do? Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of screening. If you decide to be screened, your doctor will do the PSA test with or without the digital rectal exam.

Skin Cancer

A skin exam can determine if you have any moles or other lesions on the skin that may either be cancerous or precancerous. During a skin exam, which takes five minutes and is painless, a primary care physician or dermatologist studies the skin from head-to-toe, including the scalp. Your doctor may choose to biopsy (take a sample for laboratory analysis) any suspicious lesions. Recommendations for timing and frequency of skin cancer screening have not been clearly established. If you have a history of skin cancer or previously had lesions removed, your doctor may recommend skin exams on a regular basis.

Testicular Cancer

The United States Preventive Services Task Force does not recommend routine screening or self-exam of teens and adults for testicular cancer. However, the American Cancer Society notes that men aged 20-39 should have a physical exam every three years to screen for various cancers, including testicular cancer. Talk to your doctor about screening and risk factors for testicular cancer.

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