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Screening out men's major health threats
Screening tests can catch serious diseases in very early stages, before they do major damage to your health.
You may think of the doctor's office as someplace you go when you're sick. But it's important to have an occasional visit when you're well too.
All men should have a few routine screening tests. These tests can help catch health problems early, before they've progressed enough to cause symptoms. And treatment in these early stages is more likely to be fully effective.
You can get screened for many diseases, but most men only need screening for a few. The diseases you need screening for, and how frequently you should be screened, varies according to your health and risk factors. The following tests are recommended for most men:
Blood pressure tests. A number of health organizations, such as the American Heart Association (AHA), recommend blood pressure checks at least every two years and more often if your blood pressure level is high. Keeping your blood pressure at safe levels will reduce your risk of heart disease, the leading killer of American men.
Cholesterol screening. The AHA recommends cholesterol checks once every four to six years starting at age 20.
High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease.
Colorectal cancer screening. Regular screening for this cancer should start at age 45, and maybe sooner if you're at high risk.
Your doctor can help you decide on the best type of screening test for you.
Prostate exams. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends talking to your doctor about prostate cancer screening when you turn 50 years old. The prostate specific antigen (PSA) test and a digital rectal examination (DRE) can uncover this cancer at an early stage. But screening has drawbacks, too, and some groups don't recommend routine screening for this cancer. Your doctor can help you decide if it's right for you.
For men at high risk, such as African American men and men with a close family member who had prostate cancer at an early age, the ACS recommends the discussion with your doctor start at age 45 or earlier.
Diabetes testing. Men who are overweight or obese should start being screened for diabetes at age 35, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all men start screenings at age 45. A simple blood test can reveal if you have diabetes or its precursor, prediabetes. Identifying and treating these conditions in their early stages helps prevent serious damage to organs throughout the body.
This test is even more important for men with risk factors such as a family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol or high body weight. You're also at higher risk if your family background is African American, American Indian, Asian American, Pacific Islander or Hispanic.
Skin exams. The ACS says many doctors recommend monthly self-exams to look for growths or changes that could be skin cancer. Signs to look for include any type of change in a mole or freckle, or a growth with uneven colors, borders or shape, or that is larger around than a pencil eraser. Check your whole body, head to toe, and consult your doctor about anything suspicious.
Depression screening. Screening for this serious, treatable disease should be a part of everyone's regular healthcare, according to Mental Health America.
If you've felt down, hopeless or uninterested in the things you usually enjoy for two weeks straight, it's even more important to ask your doctor about screening for depression.