Men's health: The importance of screen tests

While men’s health issues aren’t all about your nether regions, here’s what you should be keeping an eye out for below the belt, and when to start.

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Testicular cancer
Start doing a testicular self-exam at 15 to get familiar with the boys. That way, you’ll be able to flag any changes such as lumps, nodules or swelling. Young men between the ages of 18 and 30 are at the highest risk for this disease.

Prostate cancer
If there’s a family history of prostate disease, start screening at age 40. This involves a rectal exam and a PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test. Otherwise, men can begin screening at age 50.

Colorectal cancer
If there’s no family history of the disease, you can wait until 50 to start screening, but talk to your doctor about starting earlier if the disease has struck your relatives. Common methods of screening are a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) to check for hidden blood in the stool and/or a flexible sigmoidoscopy, where a lighted instrument is used to examine the rectum and lower colon for growths to remove for biopsy. A colonoscopy lets a doctor look at the entire colon using a lighted colonoscope, while a non-invasive alternative to both sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy is a virtual colonoscopy, which produces computerized tomographic (CT) images of the rectum and entire colon. Your doctor will choose which screening method(s) to use based on your risk factors.

Erectile dysfunction
There’s no screening for this, but it’s something to take seriously. “Forty percent of men over the age of 40 have erectile dysfunction,” says Goldenberg. It could be due to smoking, alcohol or substance abuse, or it could be a sign of heart disease. “There’s a link between early loss of erections and the development of heart disease.”

A version of this article appeared in our June 2012 issue with the headline “Dad, the doctor is in” (p.40). For more discussions on this subject visit our Men’s Health community message board!

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