Practicing prevention by getting routine screenings from your doctor is one of the best ways to nip health problems in the bud.
But according to Maj. (Dr.) Christopher Bunt, director of the University Family Health Center at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, men sometimes skip such potentially life-saving screenings.
“You are 24 percent less likely to go to the doctor if you are male versus female,” Bunt said. “So you are not alone in the idea of not wanting to go to the doctor.”
Here are some of the primary preventive health screenings you should get, according to Bunt:
Blood Pressure: Have this checked at least every two years. If you are overweight, losing even a small amount of weight could help lower high blood pressure.
Cholesterol: Have your blood cholesterol levels checked after age 35. If you are overweight, smoke, have diabetes, high blood pressure, or a male family member who had a heart attack before age 50, or a female family member who had one before age 60, you have additional risk factors and need to start testing earlier, around age 20.
Body Mass Index: Your body mass index, based on your height and weight, should be calculated to determine whether you are underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. A BMI between 18.5 and 25 indicates a normal weight. Persons with a BMI of 30 or higher may be obese. Calculators are available online, such as this one from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Diabetes: You should be screened for diabetes based on relevant risk factors, such as high blood pressure, regardless of whether you are on medication for it. Diabetes can cause problems with your heart, brain, eyes, feet, kidneys, nerves and other body parts.
HIV: If you are under 65, get screened for HIV. If you are older than 65, ask your doctor or nurse whether you should get tested.
Depression: You should be screened for depression if you answer positively to the following question: “In the past two weeks have you felt down, sad or hopeless, or have you felt little interest in doing activities that you normally enjoy?”
Hepatitis C: You should get screened at least once for the Hepatitis C virus if you were born between 1945 and 1965, if you have ever injected illegal drugs or you received a blood transfusion before 1992. If you are currently an injection drug user, then you should be screened regularly for Hepatitis C.
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: You should be screened for an abdominal aortic aneurysm if you are 65 to 75 and have smoked 100 or more cigarettes in your lifetime (five or more packs total). This test involves taking an ultrasound of the abdomen and looking at the aorta, the biggest blood vessel in your body, to see if there is a bulge in it. “If it ruptures, then you will bleed out really quickly,” said Bunt, which can be life threatening.
Lung Cancer: If you are between the ages of 55 and 80, have a 30-pack-a-year smoking history, and either smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, then you should undergo a CT scan of the chest. This diagnostic imaging procedure can detect any cancerous-looking growths, which can be analyzed by taking a biopsy with a needle. Until recently, said Bunt, lung cancer screenings were not considered to make a difference in detection, but now they are recommended.
Colon Cancer: You should be screened for colon cancer starting at age 50, or at age 45 if you are African-American. Several types of tests are available, including colonoscopy (in which the colon is screened for growths called polyps), fecal occult blood testing (in which stool samples are tested for blood), and fecal immunochemical testing. The trend is now towards the latter test. “In the next five to 10 years that will take over,” said Bunt. It can actually detect cancer cells.
There is, by contrast, no recommended test for prostate cancer, which is slow growing and usually occurs later in life. “If you are male, and you live a certain amount of time, you will get prostate cancer,” said Bunt. “You do more harm than good by screening for prostate cancer,” he added.
And prostate cancer treatments could lead to erectile dysfunction, leaking of urine, pain and loss of sensation. “If you don’t get treated you won’t get those side effects, and you’ll still live the same amount of time,” said Bunt. “The treatment has not been shown to extend most people’s lives.”
All men should have their blood pressure and cholesterol checked and be tested for HIV and colon cancer sometime in their lives. “Those are things you should get because you’re human, you’re male, and you’re alive,” said Bunt.
Most of these screenings, including the fecal immunochemical test, are covered by TRICARE. You can talk to your health care provider about when and where to get them. You can find out what services are covered on the TRICARE website at www.tricare.mil/CoveredServices.aspx.