Men: Buck up, see the doc and live

In the warm masculine afterglow of Father's Day, it might behoove men — fathers, grandfathers and singles alike — to take some time to think about themselves: June is Men's Health Awareness Month.

"The biggest concern with men is that they don't like to go to the doctor," said Dr. Wendy Miller, a primary care physician with Carroll Health Group. But one of the best ways to avoid too many doctor visits, is to take responsibility for your health before things go wrong. Miller suggests all men familiarize themselves with the five leading causes of death for American men, and the tips for preventing them.


Right from the outset, this is a matter of the heart.

"In this country the No. 1 cause of death in males is heart disease," Miller said. "Falling in with that would be high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, anything that affects the heart."

There's definitely a genetic component to the risk of heart disease, Miller said, but the large effects of lifestyle also mean it is possible to play well with the hand you are dealt. She suggests that all men get blood work done to learn their numbers — blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar — and make the lifestyle changes necessary to keep them in a healthy range.

The second leading cause of death in men, Miller said, is lung cancer.

"It is the leading cancer killer of both men and women now. It claims more lives than prostate, colon or breast cancer combined," she said. "It is getting better — we are seeing less — but it is still the No. 2 killer."

Screening for lung cancer is expensive and is not performed for the general population, Miller said, being reserved for people who are, or were, heavy smokers. Even though there are other factors that can lead to lung cancer, such as radon exposure and air pollution, the main thing men can do to avoid lung cancer is simple.

"Don't smoke," Miller said.

Health enemy No. 3 for men is stroke, according to Miller, in whom the risk is higher than in women. The good habits that can help mitigate the risk of stroke — exercise, not smoking and healthy eating — can pull double duty in also helping prevent heart disease.

"Prevention is definitely what you want in these cases," Miller said.

The fourth leading cause of death in men is men themselves.

"Men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women," Miller said. "It gets worse with age."

This is one area where the usual male resistance to seeking medical help can be particularly problematic, Miller said.

"Unfortunately, we see in male, more risk taking behaviors, more midlife crisis, more substance abuse," she said. "I would say if you feel like you are not on the top of your game and you are not functioning the way you feel like you should function, then you need to talk about it with someone."

The fifth leading cause of death in men is also the second leading cause of death by cancer, that is cancer of the prostate, according to Miller. To answer that challenge is simple, she said: Men need to get screened for prostate cancer as recommended.


"The easiest screening place to start is the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test, it's a blood test. The American Cancer Society still recommends the PSA for all males over 50," Miller said. "If you have a strong family history of prostate cancer, or in black males, you should start screening sooner. Typically their insurance will [covering them] at 45."

In general, Miller said, taking the time to focus on yourself, to actually get the preventative screenings and make changes as necessary can make the difference in keeping men around for a lot more Father's Days.

"I would say that all of these things are treatable," she said. "It can make a difference to get checked and get treatment."