Dec 7, 2020 Lifesaving Screenings for Men

Why it pays to stay on track with routine medical tests.

Shankar Santhanam, MD
Shankar Santhanam, MD

Many people put off medical care—especially men. That’s risky. Taking the time to see your doctor for routine screening tests can have a big health payoff. “When conditions are found earlier, they can be easier to treat,” says Shankar Santhanam, MD, a family physician and chair of the Department of Family Practice at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton. Men should schedule the following screenings at these ages, according to Dr. Santhanam:

Starting at Age 18

  • Blood pressure. Check it at least once every two years. If your systolic blood pressure (upper number) is between 120 and 129 mm Hg and your diastolic blood pressure (lower number) is less than 80 mm Hg, your blood pressure is elevated and you should get it checked annually. High blood pressure is defined as a reading that’s higher than 140/90 mm Hg. Before starting treatment, be sure to obtain measurements outside the doctor’s office.
  • Cholesterol. Unless your readings are abnormal, this blood test should be performed every five years. Total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/ dL; LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, should stay under 100 mg/dL; and HDL, or “good” cholesterol, should be 60 mg/dL or higher. An HDL reading below 40 is considered a cardiac risk factor. High levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol can increase your risk of developing heart disease, while high levels of “good” HDL cholesterol can lower it.
  • Diabetes. Screening is only advised if you have risk factors, such as a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or greater; blood pressure of 140/80 mm Hg or higher; and other risk factors, such as a family history of diabetes. Normal blood sugar levels are up to 99 mg/dL after fasting or 140 mg/dL two hours after eating.
  • Testicular cancer. Testicular cancer is the most common malignancy in young men; it often strikes in the 30s. During a routine checkup, a physician typically performs an exam. Men with risk factors—such as a family history of the disease or an undescended testicle—should consider performing self-exams on a monthly basis.
  • Skin self-exams. There are no standard guidelines for early detection of skin cancer, but many doctors recommend monthly self-exams, according to the American Cancer Society. They’re especially important if you’re at risk of skin cancer due to a personal or family history of the disease or if you have a compromised immune system.

Ages 40 to 64

  • Colorectal cancer. In 2018, the American Cancer Society recommended that people begin screening at age 45 instead of 50 due to the increase in younger individuals being diagnosed with the disease. You might need to be screened even earlier if you have risk factors, such as a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps or inflammatory bowel disease. Screening can involve annual stool-based tests; sigmoidoscopy every five years; or colonoscopy every 10 years. You may need to be tested more often depending on your risk factors.
  • Prostate cancer. Men over 50 should discuss prostate cancer screening with their doctor, says Dr. Santhanam. The benefits of having a routine screening blood test that measures PSA (prostate-specific antigen) have not been shown to outweigh the risks. Some men experience false-positive test results that may require more testing and possibly a biopsy. However, African-American men and those who have a family member who was diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 65 should consider PSA testing starting at age 45.
  • Lung cancer. Annual screening with low-dose CT scans is recommended for people between the ages of 55 and 80 who have smoked one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years or two packs per day for 15 years. Most insurance covers this screening if you meet additional criteria, such as being a current smoker or have quit in the last 15 years.
  • Osteoperosis. If you’re over 50, discuss screening with your health care provider. You might benefit from bone density testing if you smoke, have used steroids for a long time, drink heavily or broke a bone after age 50.

After Age 65

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm. If you’re a former smoker and are between the ages of 65 and 75, consider having an ultrasound, which detects this potentially deadly bulging in the aorta, the body’s main artery. Otherwise, ask your health care provider if you could benefit from this test.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG). Starting at age 65, have an EKG annually, advises Dr. Santhanam. EKGs measure the heart’s electrical activity and can detect irregularities, which can signal heart disease. Men with a personal or family history of heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure should consider having an EKG starting at age 40, says Dr. Santhanam.

To schedule an appointment with a Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton primary care physician, call (855) 571-2500 or visit Find a Doctor.