We all know a guy (or many guys) who avoid visiting the doctor for an annual checkup by saying things like “the human body is a marvelous machine. Treat it kindly and it will treat you well a hundredfold”. And indeed, while this may be somewhat true, it doesn’t substitute for regular checkups. Why? Because in health, two words are key: early detection. Dr. Philip Hagen of the Mayo Clinic says, “the good news is that for the majority of diseases we screen for, if we detect the disease early, it will never be a problem”.
Therefore, as men age, they can’t rely on luck or “good genes”. Vigorous games of golf or tennis aren’t going to cut it. Even the standard physical exam is no longer sufficient; in fact the consensus is: take tests appropriate to your age. As men celebrate more birthdays, they need to be poked, squeezed, scrutinized and “tubed.”
Before age 50
Mississippi State University recommends that if you”re under 40, your annual exam should cover the testes, skin, eyes and ears, teeth and gums and blood pressure. The Mayo Clinic suggests additional tests: body measurement, which should be done every two years after age 20, and cholesterol testing every five years.
The body measurement test is designed to compare your height and weight to your body mass index (BMI). It determines if you”re obese, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. The cholesterol test, on the other hand, is to prevent you from being another statistic in heart disease casualties.
Between the ages of 15 and 35, the Mayo Clinic also suggests tests for sexually transmitted diseases, an electrocardiogram (ECG), chest x-ray, blood chemistry test, fasting blood sugar test, and thyroid tests.
After age 50
Without question, the most important test after 50 is colorectal cancer screening, which should be done every five years. This screening may be more frequent, however, depending on age, family history of colorectal cancer or malignant polyps, and personal history of bowel disease. These three put you at higher risk, so a doctor may recommend either one or a combination of the following:
· Fecal occult blood test — detects blood in stool
· Flexible sigmoidoscopy — examines the lower portion of the colon
· Colon x-ray (barium enema) — looks into the inner surface of the colon to detect any irregularities
· Colonoscopy — examines the entire length of your colon
Men of all ages (not just over 50!) will also want to be screened for prostate cancer. If there’s a family history of prostrate cancer, screening becomes all the more important in order to detect this potentially fatal disease as early as possible.
And the list goes on…(sorry, but it”s true). In 2004, the US Surgeon General reported that osteoporosis strikes men more frequently than many had expected. Although this disease is more common among women, an increasing number of men are at risk. Of the 10 million who are diagnosed with osteoporosis, eight million are women and two million are men. A bone density test might be a good one to add to your “after 50” repertory. Osteoporosis is a so-called “silent killer”, so prevention is the key to long-term survival.
So remember: being fit and thinking positive are important tools in the quest for lifelong health. But they aren’t enough. Regular medical checkups, and screening/testing that is appropriate to your age is the key to early detection.