Fun fact: Many diseases that are common in our community are highly treatable if found early. This is good news! However, for a myriad of reasons, getting men to go to the doctor can be difficult at best, and impossible at worst. Unfortunately, it often takes the loss of a loved one or a young celebrity to a preventable illness to inspire men to put on that paper gown and get checked out, but once they decide to make an appointment with a physician, here are some health screenings they should make certain they get done.
One of the first screenings men need to think about is a prostate check. Screening tests may help find any issues, like prostate cancer, early. So, when should men get tested? If a man is at average risk, their doctor may recommend testing at fifty years old. For men at high risk, testing discussions should begin at forty-five. If a man has a strong family history of prostate cancer, testing could be recommended as early as forty years old.
After the unfortunate loss of Chadwick Boseman, all of us are paying closer attention to our colon health. According to the American Cancer Society:
Most colon cancers develop from growths called polyps on the inner surface of the colon. Finding and removing colon polyps before they turn cancerous helps to increase the chances of survival. If you have a family history (an immediate family member—mom, dad, brother, sister) of colon cancer or polyps you need to get your first colonoscopy ten years before the age your relative was diagnosed. If you do not have a family history, it is now suggested that your first colonoscopy should be at 45 years old, since the rates of colon cancer have been increasing within younger age groups.
It is easier than you think to avoid the complications that can develop due to high blood pressure such as stroke, kidney disease, blindness, dementia, and heart disease. Many people have high blood pressure and don’t know it, and we have a higher chance of having high blood pressure and developing complications at a younger age. High blood pressure is treatable and changing your diet and exercise habits can make a big difference. Each visit to the doctor, including your annual exam, includes checking your blood pressure. You can also check and track your blood pressure at home with devices that are easily accessible and inexpensive.
Another condition that can be managed with changes to your diet is high cholesterol. If you have too much LDL cholesterol in your blood, plaque builds up in the walls of your arteries. This makes heart disease more likely. Over time it can lead to heart attack and stroke. Lifestyle changes and medications can lower your LDL levels. A blood test can check your levels of total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and triglycerides (another type of blood fat). Your doctor may ask you to fast for a few hours before the blood test. Depending on your results, your doctor could suggest some lifestyle changes that can lower your LDL cholesterol, and reduce the likelihood of developing the diseases that it can cause.
Like high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes can often be controlled with diet and exercise. Truthfully, one of the main reasons men seek medical attention for uncontrolled diabetes—which can lead to heart disease and stroke, kidney disease, blindness from damage to the blood vessels of the retina, and nerve damage—is that it can also cause erectile dysfunction or impotence. You read that right: erectile dysfunction is often found in diabetics. If found early, you can control diabetes and avoid complications with diet, exercise, weight loss, and medications. A fasting plasma glucose test is most often used to screen for diabetes. Doctors may also use the A1C test, which checks how well your body has controlled blood sugar over time. Healthy adults should have the test every three years starting at forty-five. Some people, including those with high cholesterol or high blood pressure, should start testing earlier and more often.
We can’t overlook our eyes, either. Glaucoma occurs about five times more often in African Americans, and blindness from glaucoma is about six times more common. Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually damages the optic nerve and may lead to blindness. Screening tests for glaucoma are based on age and personal risk and are given during your annual eye exam to look for high pressure within the eye. If you are under forty, testing usually occurs every two to four years. Between forty and fifty-four, you may be tested every one to three years. If you are between fifty-five and sixty-four, your testing could be every one to two years, and when you are over sixty-five, testing could be annually or as often as every six months.
Your doctor can determine whether you may need to start screening earlier or get tested more often, based on your particular risk factors. One of the easiest, lifesaving ways to show the men in your life that you love them is to ask them if they have had their annual exams; if not, suggest that they visit one of your favorite health care providers. And fellas, please go to the doctor for your yearly physical, and make certain you know your numbers. Your family needs you, your community needs you, and we want you to live long and healthy lives.