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Health Screening for Men

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Health Screening for Men

Image for mens health screening article In March 2000, the Commonwealth Fund, a private health research foundation, published the largest and most extensive study of its kind based on data from a Harris poll of 1,500 men and 2,850 women across the nation. Among its findings about the healthcare of men:

  • One in four men try to wait as long as possible before getting advice for a health problem
  • One in three do not have a regular provider to contact for medical advice
  • More than half do not get regular screenings or preventive care

Perhaps less vigilant medical care is one of the reasons that men have an average lifespan that is seven years shorter than women. Men also, according to an article in the January 2002 USA edition of the British Medical Journal , have a higher mortality rate than women for all 15 leading causes of death in this country.

But you can help buck these national trends by making sure to get the medical care you need. The first step is to choose your own primary care provider. This should be someone you respect and feel comfortable talking to about health concerns. The next step is to start getting regular preventive care. Why? Because many of the silent killers such as high blood pressure , high cholesterol , and the onset of cancer can only be detected during a checkup. The basic idea is to detect disease early while it is less advanced, much easier to treat, and a lot less likely to kill you.

Cancer Screening

Colorectal Cancer : Starting at age 50, consult your doctor about getting screened for colorectal cancer. Screening options include:

  • Stool testing for hidden blood – (annually) testing stool samples collected at home
  • Sigmoidoscopy – (once every five years) using a flexible, lighted tube to view the lower colon
  • Annual stool testing plus sigmoidoscopy every five years
  • Barium enema with double contrast – (every five years) an x-ray test of the colon
  • Colonoscopy – (every ten years) examining the entire colon with a long, flexible, lighted tube

Men at increased risk for colon cancer may need to begin screening earlier and have it done more frequently. Factors that increase risk include a family history of colon cancer or polyps , or a personal history of colon cancer, polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease.

Prostate Cancer : Each year starting at age 50, talk to your doctor about the possible benefits and harms of prostate cancer screening. Available tests include a blood test called prostate-specific antigen (PSA) , or a rectal exam to check for lumps in the prostate.

Men at increased risk for prostate cancer may need to begin screening earlier and have it done more frequently. Factors that increase risk include black race and family history of prostate cancer.

Testicular Cancer : Beginning in your teens, learn to do a monthly self-exam. See your provider regularly for a testicular exam and call promptly if you find a lump. This cancer most commonly occurs in men ages 15-40, those with a family history of the disease, or who have a testicle that is out of normal position. Men at increased risk need more frequent screening.

Skin Cancer : Get a total body skin exam by your doctor every three years if you’re between the ages 20-39, or yearly after age 40. It’s also a good idea to learn to examine your own skin monthly for telltale signs of skin cancer.

Heart Disease Screening

Have your blood pressure checked at least every two years. Your doctor may recommend checking it more often if you’re at increased risk. Risk factors include a family history of high blood pressure, African American race, above-normal weight, or age greater than 50.

Have your cholesterol checked at least every five years, starting at age 35. Begin at age 20 and have it checked more often if you have risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking, diabetes , high blood pressure, or a family history of heart disease .

Dental Screening

At least once or twice a year, have a dentist examine your teeth, gums, and mouth. Your dentist may also recommend periodic x-rays to check for cavities and other problems.

Vision Screening

After age 40, have your eyes checked periodically, especially if you have risk factors for eye disease. These include a personal or family history of eye disease, chronic disease (such as diabetes or high blood pressure), or African-American race. After age 65, it’s especially important to make sure you’re having your eyes examined on a regular basis.

Miscellaneous Tests

  • Ask your doctor about a blood test to screen for diabetes if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a family history, other risk factors for the disease, or are overweight.
  • Talk to your doctor to see whether you should be screened for sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS .

Men of all ages can take advantage of regular preventive care. Doing so may help you live a longer, healthier, and more active life.


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

American Cancer Society

American Heart Association

US Preventive Services Task Force


Chobanian AV, Bakris GL, Black HR, et al. The seventh report of the Joint National Committee on prevention, detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure. JAMA. 2003;289:2560-2572.

Guidelines for cancer screening in patients at average risk. American Family Physician. 2000;62: 1649-1650.

Hellekson KL. American Cancer Society issues 2002 guidelines for the early detection of cancer. American Family Physician. 2002;66:682–684.

Men: Stay healthy at any age. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website. Available at: http://www.ahrq.gov/ppip/healthymen.htm . Accessed March 24, 2004.

Meryn S, Jadad AR. The future of men and their health. (editorial) BMJ USA. 2002;2:11–12.

Out of touch: American men and the health care system, The Commonwealth Fund website. Available at: http://www.cmwf.org/programs/women/sandman_survey_bn_374.asp . Accessed Maarch 24, 2004.

Pocket guide to good health for adults. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website. Available at: http://www.ahrq.gov/ppip/adguide/checkups.htm . Accessed March 24, 2004.

Zoorob R, Anderson R, Cefalu C, Sidani M. Cancer screening guidelines. American Family Physician. 2001;63:1101–1112.

Last reviewed October 2006 by Jill D. Landis, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.