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Week of Father's Day puts spotlight on men's health

It's Men's Health Week, and public health officials are encouraging men to pay more attention to their bodies. Not only should they be paying more attention to little changes that don't seem right, they should be getting annual checkups. Diseases common in older men such as prostate cancer can be treated when found early, and other conditions can be prevented from getting worse, says Mercy Medical Center urologist Dr. Ira Hantman.

How often do men need to get a general checkup, and what do doctors look for?

Yearly, preferably from age 40, definitely from age 50. During the exam, the patient's general medical condition will be evaluated, including blood pressure, cardiac function, cholesterol, diabetes, as well as colon and prostate cancer. Beginning at age 50, men should have a digital rectal exam to determine if there is any enlargement or irregularity of the prostate that may require additional testing. Men of this age may also undergo a PSA or Prostate Specific Antigen blood test. If the PSA is high, a biopsy of the prostate may be ordered.

What are the most common serious ailments men suffer from as they age?

Men's life expectancy remains less than women, about five years less on average. As men age, there are conditions that strictly impact them, such as prostate issues, low testosterone and erectile dysfunction (younger men are more prone to testicular cancer). In addition, health issues vary according to family history and ethnic background. For example, African-American men endure a higher rate of prostate cancer, and are also at higher risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

How common is prostate cancer, and when should men get checked?

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in males, affecting approximately one in six men. Prostate cancer is also the second most common cause of cancer-related death in men. An important risk factor is age; more than 70 percent of men diagnosed with this disease are over the age of 65. According to the American Cancer Society, men as a rule should begin seeing their doctor about prostate screening at age 50; for African-American men, at age 45.

Should men check for symptoms in between visits?

There may not be any evident symptoms in early stages of prostate cancer. By the time symptoms do occur, the disease may have spread beyond the prostate, therefore the need for screening is quite important. Symptoms may include change in voiding patterns, blood in the urine and unusual back pain, including pain in the lower back, hips or upper thighs.

Why is "toughing it out" without medical care a bad idea?

A: It has been shown that early diagnosis and treatment is most beneficial in the successful treatment and cure of prostate cancer. Each year upwards of 200,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and nearly 30,000 will die from it. However, we know that many prostate conditions are responsive to treatment and prostate cancer is curable when found early, so "toughing it out" serves only to delay detection.

What else can men do at home for their health?

One thing men can do is to take time to schedule their annual physical. Men are great at coming up with excuses not to take proper care of themselves, ranging from work duties to a misguided belief that to seek help is a sign of weakness. Prostate health can be improved by making lifestyle changes like a low-fat diet, reducing red meat intake and getting regular exercise. Men who follow the above guidelines and take time for regular checkups should enjoy a better quality of life.