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Why You Should Push the Men in Your Life to Go to the Doctor

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We all know that men don’t generally like to talk about their health. They often avoid going to the doctor, whether they think they are healthy overall, or they simply do not want to make an appointment. Even when they do feel sick, many men ignore the problem rather than going to a physician. In fact, research shows that men are more likely than women to assume the problem will go away on its own.

Unlike women, who are conditioned to get preventive care from a gynecologist beginning at an early age, health screenings for men are not generally necessary until middle age. June is Men’s Health Month, and it is a perfect time for women to give the men in their lives a little nudge to get preventive screenings and make health a priority.

Age, family history of illness and lifestyle factors are major factors for determining when to get screenings for specific diseases. However, every man should speak to his doctor about colon and prostate cancer screening.

Colon cancer screenings
Most men should speak with their doctor about getting a colonoscopy around age 50, but a family history of colon cancer, other diseases and race all play a role in the timing of this discussion. For example, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that African-American men begin colon cancer screenings at the age of 45.

Any man with a first-degree relative (father, mother, brother, sister) who has been diagnosed with colon cancer or polyps should be screened ten years earlier than the age when their relative was diagnosed. Men with a personal history of inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, tobacco use or heavy alcohol consumption are also at an increased risk for the disease.

Symptoms of colon cancer include: a change in bowel habits, such as frequent diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days; rectal bleeding; dark stools or blood in the stool, cramping or abdominal pain; weakness and fatigue or unintended weight loss.

Prostate cancer screenings
Prostate cancer is the nation’s second leading cause of cancer deaths in American men, but it is highly treatable when caught early. A simple blood screening known as the prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, test can detect this cancer in its earliest stages. Men should talk to their doctor regarding their individual risk factors for prostate cancer, including age, race and family history to determine when to begin screenings.

In general, for men with an average risk of prostate cancer, PSA screening should begin at age 50. African Americans and those who have a first-degree relative diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age are considered higher risk, and they should begin PSA screening at age 45. For men who have more than one first-degree relative diagnosed with prostate cancer at an early age, PSA screening should begin at age 40.

The first PSA test will provide a baseline number. If the number is low, men should consider getting the test yearly to track if the PSA levels rise. If the number rises significantly within a year or two, men should talk with their doctor about their risk for developing the disease and whether to proceed with treatment.

Most early stages of prostate cancer do not have any symptoms. This is why the PSA test is important. When symptoms of prostate cancer are present, they usual indicate a much more advanced stage of the disease. Symptoms can include: difficulty urinating; a weak or interrupted flow of urine; frequent urination, especially at night; difficulty emptying the bladder completely; pain or burning during urination; blood in the urine or semen; pain in the back, hips or pelvis that doesn’t go away; or painful ejaculation. These symptoms are not exclusive to prostate cancer and are often indicative of another disease.

Cancer treatment options
There are several ways to treat colon and rectal cancer. Depending on its type and stage, one or a combination of the following treatment options may be used: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or targeted therapy.

Treatment options for prostate cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, cryotherapy, hormone therapy or chemotherapy.

Encourage a healthy lifestyle
To keep the men in your life healthy, it is important to encourage and practice a healthy lifestyle. Men should go to the doctor for a regular physical exam to get their blood pressure and cholesterol checked every two years. It is also important to always maintain a healthy diet, quality sleep and regular exercise.

Since men are notoriously hesitant to go to the doctor, it’s important for you to be aware of common cancer symptoms and sometimes push the men in your life to get screenings. Encourage the men in your life to find a doctor they trust and to have an open conversation about their body. ■

Written by: Travers J. McLoughlin, MD