JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —
Women have long outpaced men when it comes to life expectancy, so it may come as no surprise that they are more proactive than men when it comes to taking care of their health.
Studies indicate that women are much more likely than men to see a doctor for routine health checkups.
One of the goals of Men’s Health Month, which is observed in June, is to close this gender gap by encouraging men and boys to seek regular medical advice and early treatment for disease and injury.
There are a number of reasons why men are more reluctant than women to see a physician, said Dr. (Lt. Col) Brandy Lybeck, 359th Medical Group chief of medical staff.
“There is a lot of focus on female-associated health screenings that men can think there isn’t a need to see a doctor until something is wrong,” she said. “Furthermore, there is an internal struggle with any patient to acknowledge and accept something may be wrong and then to seek out help. Lastly, I think that certain symptoms are shrugged off as ‘normal aging’ when it may be an indication to get screened and routinely evaluated.”
Screenings for a variety of conditions often prove to be lifesaving.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States, accounting for one in every four male deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so screenings that target cardiovascular issues such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure are highly recommended, Lybeck said.
“Depending on other risk factors, we recommend cholesterol screenings for men starting at the age of 40,” she said. “Blood pressure screenings should start earlier, beginning with pediatric patients.”
Cholesterol – a soft, waxy, fat-like substance in the bloodstream and in all body cells – comes in two forms: LDL (low-density lipoprotein), or bad cholesterol, which forms a thick, hard substance that can clog blood vessels and block the flow of blood to the heart or brain, and HDL (high-density lipoprotein), or good cholesterol, which helps the body get rid of LDL cholesterol. Triglycerides are another form of fat in the bloodstream.
The LDL level should be less than 100 milligrams per deciliter of blood for those with the most risk factors, less than 160 mg/dL for people with minimal risk and less than 130 mg/dL for those with moderate risk, while the triglyceride level should be less than 150 mg/dL. Total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL. The HDL level should be greater than 40 mg/dL.
After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men, but Lybeck said there is no routine screening for the disease.
“This is a discussion that should occur with your doctor or health care provider if you have a family history of prostate cancer,” she said.
The prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, test is often used for prostate cancer screening, but Lybeck said it is no longer recommended in all men solely based on age.
“The recommendation is to discuss family history and symptoms and take a risk-based screening approach,” she said. “Average-risk men should start having a discussion around age 50 and a high-risk man should start the discussion at age 40.”
High-risk categories are men with a family history of prostate cancer, particularly if the person with prostate cancer is younger than 65; African-American men; and men with a known mutation in either of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are tumor suppressor genes.
Lybeck said other recommended screenings for men include those for skin cancer; colon cancer, which should start at age 50; aortic aneurysm at age 65 for all males who have ever smoked; hepatitis C, a one-time screening for anyone born between 1945 and 1965; and diabetes mellitus at age 40 for anyone who is overweight or obese.
“For skin cancer, there is no routine screening, but you should talk to your primary care manager if you have a family history or lesion you are concerned about,” she said. “For lung cancer, any male 55 to 80 years old who has a 30 pack-year smoking history and currently smokes or has quit within the past 15 years should be screened. A pack-year equals the number of packs per day times the number of years of smoking.”
Men are also reluctant to address mental health issues, but these can be alleviated with professional help, Lybeck said.
“Depression and suicidal thoughts are also under-reported and are thus a common cause of death and disability,” she said.
Male patients should always consult with a physician for any symptom that occurs abruptly and hampers their ability to function, Lybeck said, but she also emphasized the importance of regular routine exams.
“When medical providers are able to see and examine a patient in a routine, healthy state, it helps make noticing differences easier,” she said.