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Movember – Trying to Change the Face of Men’s Health

They’re sprouting up everywhere, moustaches on men’s faces, around the world!  During the month of November, “Movember” uses the power of the Mo (slang for moustache).  Movember helps raise money and awareness to help combat men’s health issues: prostate and testicular cancer, poor mental health, and physical activity.  Getting the right screening test at the right time is one of the most important things a man can do for his health.  Screenings find diseases early, before you have symptoms, when they’re easier to treat.  The tests you need are based on your age and your risk factors.  Take control of your health and look after yourself.

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in American men (after skin cancer).  1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.  In 2015, an estimated 220,800 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.  It tends to be a slow-growing cancer, but there are also aggressive, fast-growing types of prostate cancer.  Screening tests can find the disease early, sometimes even before symptoms develop, when the treatments can be more effective. 

Know the Risk Factors in developing the disease:

Family History – A man with a father or a brother who developed prostate cancer will be twice as likely to develop the disease.

Ethnicity – There is an increased occurrence in black African and Afro-Caribbean males.

Symptoms, Testing, and Treating –

There are not always symptoms associated with prostate cancer.  In fact, many times it is first detected at routine check-ups.  However, here are some symptoms that might indicate the presence of prostate cancer: 

  • A need to urinate frequently, especially at night

  •   Difficulty starting urination or holding back urine

  •   Weak or interrupted flow of urine

  •   Painful or burning urination

  •   Difficulty in having an erection

  •   Painful ejaculation

  •   Blood in urine or semen

  •   Frequent pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important for you to contact your doctor.  The following tests are recommended to detect prostate cancer early on (before the disease progresses):

  •   The Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) – The DRE involves the doctor inserting a gloved finger in the anus, where it is possible to feel part of the surface of the prostate.

  •   The PSA blood test (PSA) – The PSA blood test looks for the presence of a protein in the blood that is produced specifically by prostate cells.

Depending on the results of these tests you may be referred to a specialist for a biopsy – the only way to determine if cancer is present.

Testicular Cancer

This uncommon cancer develops in a man’s testicles, the reproductive glands that produce sperm.  Most cases occur between ages 20 and 54.  The American Cancer Society recommends that all men have a testicular exam when they see a doctor for a routine physical (even if you feel fine, it is still important to see your health care provider to check for potential problems).  Men at higher risk (a family history or an undescended testicle) should talk with a doctor about additional screening. 

Symptoms, Testing, and Treatment – Men may experience few or no symptoms of testicular cancer.  Here are some important symptoms to be on the lookout for:

  •   Swelling or a lump in either testicle (usually painless)

  •   A feeling of heaviness in the scrotum

  •   Change in the size and shape of the testicles

  •   Aches or pain in the lower abdomen or groin

  •   A sudden build-up of fluid in the scrotum

  •   Pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum

  •   Enlargement of tenderness of the breast tissue

Regular self-examination of the testicles is important for young men.  Just like women are recommended to self-examine their breasts for breast cancer, doctors advise regular self-exams in men, gently feeling for hard lumps, smooth bumps, or changes in size or shape of the testes.  Self-examination can help find any changes in the testes EARLY on. 

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer.  Men have a slightly higher risk of developing it than women.  The majority of colon cancers slowly develop from colon polyps: growths on the inner surface of the colon.  After cancer develops it can invade or spread to other parts of the body.  The way to prevent colon cancer is to find and remove colon polyps before they turn cancerous. 

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Screening begins at age 50 in average-risk adults.  A colonoscopy is a common test for detecting polyps and colorectal cancer.  A doctor views the entire colon using a flexible tube and a camera.  Polyps can be removed at the time of the test.  A similar alternative is a flexible sigmoidoscopy that examines only the lower part of the colon.  Some patients opt for a virtual colonoscopy – a CT scan – or double contrast barium enema – a special X-ray – although if polyps are detected, an actual colonoscopy is needed to remove them.

Skin Cancer

The most dangerous form of skin cancer is melanoma.  It begins in specialized cells called melanocytes that produce skin color.  Older men are twice as likely to develop melanoma as women of the same age.  Men are also 2-3 times more likely to get non-melanoma basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers than women are.  Your risk increases as lifetime exposure to sun and/or tanning accumulates; sunburns accelerate risk.

Screening for Skin Cancer

The American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Dermatology recommend regular skin self-exams to check for any changes in marks on your skin including shape, color, and size.  A skin exam by a dermatologist or other health professional should be part of a routine cancer check-up.  Treatments for skin cancer are more effective and less disfiguring when it’s found early.

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

Your risk for high blood pressure increases with age.  It’s also related to your weight and lifestyle.  High blood pressure can lead to severe complications without any prior symptoms, including an aneurysm – dangerous ballooning of an artery.  But it can be treated.  When it is, you may reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.  The bottom line:  Know your blood pressure.

Screening for High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure readings are two numbers.  The first (systolic) is the pressure in your arteries when the heart beats.  The second (diastolic) is the pressure between beats.  Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80.  High blood pressure is 140/90 or higher, and in between those two is prehypertension.  How often blood pressure should be checked depends on how high it is and what other risk factors you have.

Cholesterol Levels

A high level of LDL cholesterol in the blood causes sticky plaque to build up in the walls of your arteries.  This increases your risk of heart disease.  Atherosclerosis – hardening and narrowing of the arteries – can progress without symptoms for many years.  Over time it can lead to heart attack and stroke.  Lifestyle changes and medications can reduce this “bad” cholesterol and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Determining Cholesterol Levels

The fasting blood lipid panel is a blood test that tells you your levels of total cholesterol, LDL “lousy” cholesterol, HDL “healthy” cholesterol, and triglycerides (blood fat).  The results tell you and your doctor a lot about what you need to do to reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.  Men 20 years and older should have a new panel done at least every five years.  Starting at 35, men need regular cholesterol testing.

Type 2 Diabetes

One-third of Americans with diabetes don’t know they have it.  Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to heart disease and stroke, kidney disease, blindness from damage to the blood vessels of the retina, nerve damage, and impotence.  This doesn’t have to happen.  When found early, diabetes can be controlled and complications can be avoided with diet, exercise, weight loss, and medications.

Screening for Type 2 Diabetes

A fasting plasma glucose test is most often used to screen for diabetes.  More and more doctors are turning to the A1C test, which tells how well your body has controlled blood sugar over time.  Healthy adults should have the test every three years starting at age 45.  If you have a higher risk, including high cholesterol or blood pressure or a family history, you may start testing earlier and more frequently.

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Poor Mental Health

3 out of 4 deaths by suicide are men.  Anyone can be affected by poor mental health.  Many men might find it difficult to share their problems and feelings with others.  Many men might try to remain ‘strong and silent’ rather than get the support that they need.  It’s important to be proactive about your mental health and be aware of the risk factors and symptoms:

  •   Family history of mental health problems

  •   Drug and alcohol use

  •   Serious medical illness

  •   Isolation or loneliness

  •   Unemployment, homelessness, conflict, or other stressful life situation

If someone that you know is at risk, encourage them to contact their doctor, a mental health professional or access support.   Take action, stay connected, and look after your mental health. 

Physical Inactivity: is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality.  Sitting is the new smoking.  It’s killing us.  Being active is essential to prevent and reduce risks of many diseases and improve both physical and mental health.  Make time and MOVE more!!

The bottom line

Stop avoiding the doctor.  Routine physicals are meant to screen for diseases and assess the risk of future medical problems.  Take action to reduce your risks.  Start with healthy lifestyle choices – eat a healthy diet, stay physically active and quit smoking.  The impact of the changes now will be greater than you’ll ever know. 

Movember’s vision:  “have an everlasting impact on the face of men’s health.”

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