According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 1 in 5 men haven’t seen a primary care doctor in over a year. When the life expectancy for men is on average five years less than that of women, why do men put off routine healthcare?
One reason is that men fear the doctor may discover a serious problem. Other excuses include not having time and wanting to avoid uncomfortable procedures or exams, like a colonoscopy. While some screening exams are not pleasant, they do save lives. Here are a few examples of what men might expect when talking with their healthcare provider about health screening exams.
Testicular Cancer screening
Testicular cancer affects men primarily aged 15 to 35. Testicular cancer is rare, and very treatable. While 1 in 22 men will get colon cancer, only 1 in 5,000 men will get testicular cancer in their lifetime.
About 410 deaths are caused by testicular cancer every year. If you are diagnosed with testicular cancer, it is very treatable. Nearly 99 percent of testicular cancer patients, about 9,000 annually in the United States, survive if cancer doesn’t spread beyond the testicles. Treatments include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force does not recommend self-exam for men of any age. Their research shows that self-exams may cause more harm than good. However, if you notice any of the following signs consult your healthcare provider as soon as possible:
• a painless lump in the testicle (the most common sign)
• a feeling of weight in the scrotum
• swelling of the testicle (with or without pain)
• pain or a dull ache in the testicle, scrotum or groin.
Colon Cancer screening
In general, colon cancer screening is recommended for men over 50. Today, there are many options for colon cancer screening, but colonoscopy is still the gold standard.
Patients without a personal or family history of colon cancer or colon polyps are at average risk for colon cancer, and screening should begin at age 50. Patients with first-degree relatives who had colon cancer or polyps are at increased risk and should be screened more frequently, usually starting 10 years before the family member’s age at diagnosis.
One of the main reasons why men avoid screening colonoscopy is the “prep.” Preparing for screening colonoscopy can be uncomfortable and require patients stay near the restroom during the day before the exam.
The medical evidence is clear, colon cancer screening reduces morbidity and death from colon cancer. After being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, approximately one in three will die from their disease. These deaths are largely preventable with proper screening.
While colonoscopy is still the best test, it is not the only test. There is new information that the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) performed annually can be as effective as a colonoscopy for patients at average risk for colon cancer.
The FIT test can be performed in the comfort of the home and returned to the physician’s office for processing.
Cologuard is another non-invasive test that can be performed at home. While the FIT test must be performed annually, Cologuard can be completed every three years if the test is negative. If either test is positive, a colonoscopy would need to be performed to confirm or exclude a diagnosis of colon cancer.
If a colonoscopy is negative, the test can be repeated once every 10 years. If precancers or colon polyps are found, a colonoscopy should be repeated every three to five years.
If you have any changes in your health, you should talk to your health care provider. While it may seem uncomfortable to discuss your health concerns with anyone else, it’s important to build a relationship with a primary care provider and share your concerns during a routine visit. They will keep your health issues confidential and you’ll have the confidence to discuss those issues men typically don’t want to talk about.
Many men might think that going to the urgent care for an acute illness or injury replaces a primary care wellness visit. That’s not always the case. Make an appointment with a primary care provider today and enjoy the confidence and satisfaction that taking control of your health can bring you.
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Dr. Peter Purrington is the Chief Medical Officer for Heritage Health. He is a board-certified Family Physician and member of the American Academy of Family Physicians.