- As men get older, they benefit most from having a trusted health care provider with expertise in preventive care and men’s special health concerns.
- Preventive care makes it easier to manage and respond to what life throws at you.
What’s the best thing a man can do to address medical issues that will become more likely as he gets older? What should he do as he contemplates things like screenings for prostate or colon cancer, urinary difficulties or trouble getting or keeping an erection?
“Find a primary care physician (PCP) you can trust and talk to about anything,” says Ben Davis, M.D., a physician who practices at Swedish Family Medicine - First Hill. “It’s hard talking about topics like depression or having difficulty urinating. It helps having someone you know and can be vulnerable with.”
It’s timely advice for Men’s Health Month, but it’s wise counsel for any time of year. Start with the trusted relationship, then you can move to the specific men’s health questions as they emerge.
Screening for prostate cancer
Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “men’s health” is the prostate exam. While many men routinely have some kind of a prostate screen beginning around age 50, health care researchers and providers have disagreed about the value of a screen.
The two primary prostate screens are the Prostate-Specific Antigen, or PSA, test, which measures the level of PSA in a man’s blood, and the digital test, in which the provider probes the prostate through the rectum.
“The PSA used to be routine,” Davis says. But “with the PSA, there are a significant number of false positives with routine screening which can lead to unnecessary biopsies. Because of this it's best to have a discussion about your risk as well as the risks and benefits of the screening. A lot of men may be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their life but only a small fraction of those men will actually die from prostate cancer itself.”
As for the digital exam, Dr. Davis says he doesn’t typically recommend it unless the man is having symptoms. “Based on randomized control trials — the gold standard of study design — there is no significant benefit from routine screening with digital rectal exams. This could be for a number of reasons, one of which is there being a lot of subjectivity in the test.”
Prostate cancer generally develops slowly and may show no symptoms. Some men can have prostate cancer for years and not even be aware of it. And if it is diagnosed, it may be that treatment makes little difference in a man’s longevity or quality of life.
Nevertheless, prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among men, according to the National Cancer Institute. About 11.6 percent of men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives, the institute reports.
Men should consider having a discussion with their PCP about prostate cancer screening beginning around the time they turn 50, says Davis.
Other men’s medical issues
Men’s health issues might be thought of in terms of decades. When men are in their 30s and 40s, they should become mindful of their weight, cholesterol level, blood pressure and risk of developing diabetes. In their 50s, they should be thinking about getting a colonoscopy and potentially screening for prostate cancer. Men 55 and older with a history of smoking should could consider an exam to look for signs of lung cancer, although this screening is somewhat controversial. Older men may have issues with their skin, joints, heart, brain and urinary or other systems.
In general, Dr. Davis says, men should take care of their bodies by getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet. And they shouldn’t wait until they’re old to start.
Often, “younger men can often find it difficult to take the long view on their health, looking 20 or 30 years down the road” he says. Nevertheless, “patients who have established a good routine earlier in life with regular exercise and a balanced diet will often have an easier path to success later in life.”
Also, men -- and women -- should remain mentally active as they age. Dr. Davis recommends they engage in hobbies that engage both the mind and body on a daily basis, such as gardening.
People are healthier, he says, “when they’re being stimulated and active each day.”
If you want to make a smart move for Men’s Health Month, make time to schedule a visit with a primary care provider. You can find a skilled Swedish provider near you in our online directory.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.