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November 7, 2022 • read
Health screening tests every man needs
Movember is a month-long charity initiative that shines a light on men’s health, specifically prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health. You’ll see men growing out their moustaches to raise money in support of the cause. And while raising funds is essential for research, getting people to talk about men’s health is just as crucial.
If you have health concerns or don’t have a healthcare provider to check in with, Maple can help. Maple is a telehealth platform with Canada’s largest network of doctors and healthcare providers. You can speak to Canadian-licensed doctors in minutes, 24/7, from your phone, tablet, or computer.
With Movember, and Canadian men being less likely to go to the doctor than women, it’s important to know about the tests men shouldn’t skip. The health screening appointments for men we discuss below are non-negotiable and a big step towards maintaining long-term health.
Why should men see a healthcare provider regularly?
It’s tempting to wait until there’s something wrong to see a doctor, but that’s not all you can do to stay healthy. One of the keys to good health is preventative maintenance, like regular checkups and exams. You can miss the early signs of illness when you skip health tests and screenings.
Catching illnesses early goes a long way toward favourable outcomes when it comes to your health. Many diseases and other health concerns like certain cancers, diabetes, and high blood pressure in men can be prevented by seeing a healthcare provider. What may take only a few hours of your day could save your life.
Common health issues and diseases that can be prevented with screening tests
To help avoid potentially serious problems in the future, we’ve put together a list of common health issues and diseases that you can get tested for.
High blood pressure
When you have high blood pressure, your heart has to work harder to pump blood through your body. High blood pressure can be dangerous. Over time, it can lead to serious illnesses like heart disease and stroke, dementia, kidney disease, erectile dysfunction, and more. And men are at an increased risk of it, with 50% having high blood pressure compared to 44% of women.
Monitoring your blood pressure is helpful because if you catch it early, healthcare professionals can recommend many interventions to correct uncontrolled high blood pressure, which could prevent a stroke or heart disease in men.
Diet changes, stress reduction, medication, and physical activity are all helpful solutions to reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases.
Men should get their blood pressure checked at least once per year. If you’ve had problems with your heart health in the past, you’ll likely need to have more frequent tests.
While you’re at it, it’s important to check your heart’s health. Your healthcare provider may listen to your heart and take your heart rate, or send you for a heart check-up like an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram.
Monitoring your cholesterol is key to maintaining your cardiovascular health. Men can have high cholesterol at any age. However, one study showed that those aged 40 to 59 had an increased rate of high total cholesterol (16.5%) compared to those aged 20-39 (9.1%) and even men 60 and over (6.9%).
There’s more than one type of cholesterol, and not all cholesterol is dangerous. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is good, and having higher levels of this from things you eat in your diet can help lower the bad cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is the type you don’t want too much of in your bloodstream. High levels of (LDL) cholesterol contribute to heart disease, and the buildup of plaque that blocks arteries and causes heart attacks or strokes.
Screening for high cholesterol in men over 40 is crucial and should be done at least once. After that, an assessment of your personal and family history will help you and your healthcare provider decide how often to follow up.
Canadian men ages 18 to 34 years old are at the highest risk of testicular cancer. Even if you’re not within this age range, you’ll still want to stay on top of your testicular health. It’s estimated that about 1200 Canadian men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2022 alone, and 35 of them will die from it. Early detection requires a team effort, and you’ll need to do self-assessments and schedule an annual exam with a healthcare practitioner.
Risk factors for testicular cancer include:
- History of undescended testicle
- Family or personal history of testicular cancer
Other potential risk factors that have been linked to testicular cancer but don’t have enough evidence include:
- Tall adult height
- Fertility problems
- HIV infection
- Working as a firefighter
- Smoking cannabis
- Having contact with certain pesticides
- Exposure to estrogen during your mother’s pregnancy
- Late puberty onset
- Calcium deposits on the testes
You can check for testicular cancer at home by self-examining as early as your 20s. Familiarity with your body will help you find abnormalities more easily. A testicular cancer test may be part of the physical with your doctor, especially if you have a family history of testicular cancer. Luckily, testicular cancer has a great recovery rate, especially when caught early.
You likely know someone with diabetes, and while it may be common, it’s a serious disease. Having diabetes increases your risk of heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, blindness, amputation, and more. By catching diabetes early, you can avoid serious health complications.
While maintaining a healthy diet and weight can reduce your risk of diabetes, men are still more likely to get type 2 diabetes at a lower weight than women. Some reasons include men storing more fat in their abdomen and more undiagnosed diabetes in men than women.
Testing blood glucose levels can help detect the early signs of type 2 diabetes in men. A healthcare provider will order the tests to confirm if you have diabetes.
Screening for diabetes is especially important if you’re at an increased risk of the disease. The high-risk group is quite extensive, and includes but isn’t limited to:
- Being overweight (having a BMI 25 or greater)
- Having high blood pressure
- Being 40 years of age or older
- Having a family history of diabetes
- Being of African, Arab, Asian, Hispanic, Indigenous, or South Asian descent
- Having prediabetes
- Being a smoker
You can also use the Canadian Diabetes Risk Assessment Questionnaire (CANRISK) online to evaluate your risk of diabetes. However, this tool hasn’t been validated for those younger than 40 years of age, so if you’re in this age group, you should use it with caution.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
STIs in men aren’t always glaringly obvious. Gonorrhea, for example, is treatable and may not present any symptoms. But, it can have serious health consequences for both you and your partner if left untreated. More Canadian men are infected with gonorrhea than women, so it’s important to get tested to make sure you and your partner are safe.
- Unusual penile or anal discharge
- Pain or burning during urination
- Sores, lesions, or growths around your genital or anal area
- Itching in your genital or anal area
- Pain and swelling in the testicles
STIs like HIV, however, are lifelong, and data from 2018 shows that men make up 74.8% of HIV cases in Canada. Most people get HIV by having unprotected sex with someone who already has it, or by sharing a needle with someone who’s infected.
Testing for STIs usually includes a swab, urine, fluid, or blood test. Other infections, like genital warts, may require a physical exam. Get in touch with a healthcare provider, and they’ll let you know which tests are appropriate.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in men. In 2022, it’s estimated that 13,500 men will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in Canada, and 5,200 will die from it. However, with proper screening, 47% of colorectal cancer cases are detected early, at Stages I and II. And the earlier it’s found, the better your chances are for successful treatment.
You should get a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every two years if you’re between 50 to 74 and not considered high risk. If you’re at a higher risk of colorectal cancer (you have a first-degree relative or you’re over 75), your healthcare provider may recommend earlier screening.
Early warning signs of colorectal cancer include:
- Unexplained changes in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea
- Change in size or shape of your bowel movements (narrower than usual)
- Feeling the need to have a bowel movement but nothing passes
- Rectal bleeding
- Blood in the stool (bright red or even black)
- Persistent abdominal symptoms (gas, pain, bloating, fullness, or cramping)
- Unexplained weight loss
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Canada, and the mortality rate is almost one-third higher in men than in women over 55. The best prevention method is to not smoke. If you’re a current smoker, your risk of lung cancer is 25 times greater than someone who has never smoked.
Screening for lung cancer can help find early signs of some lung cancers in men. This is recommended for those aged 55 to 74 who are or were heavy smokers. Lung cancer tests involve a CT scan, which may require a lung biopsy if you have a positive result. Without screening, however, 70% of lung cancers are only found at a later stage when there’s less hope for successful treatment.
Osteoporosis in men is more common than you think. At least one in three men will have a broken bone due to osteoporosis. A screening test for osteoporosis is called a bone mineral density (BMD) test. The x-ray test provides accurate information about the density of your bones.
All men 65 or older should have a BMD test. However, if you’re between the ages of 50 to 64 with high-risk factors, you should inquire about screening. These include but aren’t limited to:
- Having a parent who experienced a hip fracture
- Taking steroids within the past year (e.g. prednisone)
- Taking high-risk medications that weaken bones (e.g. hormonal treatment for prostate cancer)
- Having rheumatoid arthritis
- Being a smoker
- Having a past fragility fracture that happened after 40
- Experiencing weight loss of more than 10% since age 25
- Having a low body weight (less than 132 pounds)
- Consuming an average of three or more alcoholic beverages a day
- Having other medical conditions that can contribute to osteoporosis in men
Most men under the age of 50 don’t require a BMD test, but higher-risk individuals include those who have:
- Had a past fragility fracture that happened after 40
- Taken steroids within the past year
- Take high-risk medications that weaken bones, such as certain heartburn medication, prostate or prostate cancer drugs, some diuretics, and other blood pressure medications
- Medical conditions that can contribute to osteoporosis in men, including rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease, chronic liver disease, diabetes, and more.
Prostate cancer typically grows slowly over many years, without any symptoms. Each day in 2022, 67 Canadian men will have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and 13 will die from it every day.
Prostate cancer screening for men involves prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing. All prostates make PSA, but cancerous prostate tissue usually makes more. Higher levels of PSA can indicate an abnormality, which means your healthcare provider will likely recommend follow-up testing.
Like lung cancer screening, however, there’s the risk of a false positive. Roughly one in four abnormal PSA test results are from cancer, which means three-quarters aren’t. On the flip side, not all cancers produce high levels of PSA, which could give you a false negative.
In addition, PSA testing also doesn’t tell you how dangerous the prostate cancer is. Some are slow-growing and may never cause problems or need treatment. And, an elevation in PSA may even prompt further testing or treatments that could come with side effects.
A family history of prostate cancer, BRCA2 gene mutation, obesity, diet high in calcium, and occupational exposure are just a few possible factors that can put you in the high-risk category. And, even if you’re not at a high risk, PSA testing in your 40s can help establish a reference for future prostate cancer risk, since most develop after 50.
Speak to a healthcare provider about your family history and prostate cancer screening options.
One in 59 Canadian men will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. After the age of 50, skin cancer in men is more likely than it is in women. UV light is the main cause of skin cancer, but a family history can also increase your risk of developing it.
Men can screen for skin cancer by self-examining their moles and other skin spots with good lighting in front of a mirror. Check for moles, spots, and other growths from head to toe — don’t forget to check your nailbeds, between your fingers, and the soles of your feet! You should also consider having regular dental and eye exams since melanomas can appear in these spots as well.
If moles are present, look for the “ABCDEs” — asymmetry, borders, colours, diameter greater than 6mm, and evolution. These are common characteristics of skin cancer.
If you find any concerning spots, you should see a doctor immediately. The earlier skin cancer is detected, the more treatable it is.
Abdominal aortic aneurysm
An abdominal aortic aneurysm happens when an area of the aorta — the main vessel that carries blood from your heart to the rest of your body — becomes enlarged. If it isn’t detected early enough, it can rupture and cause life-threatening internal bleeding.
Men ages 65 and over are more likely to have an abdominal aortic aneurysm, with a rupture accounting for one in 50 of all deaths within this age group. If you’re in this age window, abdominal aortic aneurysm screening — a simple abdominal ultrasound — is recommended.
Preventative health screening isn’t just for your physical health. Your mental health is just as important, and yet, there’s a stigma related to men getting help. But not addressing mental health conditions can have serious consequences.
In Canada, men account for every four out of five deaths by suicide. Globally, men’s suicide rates are even higher, which likely means depression in men is going undetected and untreated.
Men are at an increased risk of mental health issues if they have:
- A family history
- Physical illnesses
- Legal or financial troubles
- A habit of misusing alcohol and drugs
- Distressed relationships
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and aren’t able to cope with your emotions, take the first step towards better mental health by seeking help. This might involve talk therapy or medication. Doing so can provide you with the tools you need to prevent any further damage to your mind and body.
What are the recommended men’s health screening tests by age?
Now that you know which common health issues and diseases you should screen for, below is a breakdown of which tests are recommended by age. It’s important to speak to your doctor about your family history and risks, however, but these give you a general overview of the tests you need to be aware of.
Health tests men should get in their 20s and 30s
When you’re in your 20s and 30s, your long-term health likely isn’t top-of-mind. But there are lots of recommended medical tests for men by this age to help prevent or detect health issues. These tests include checking for:
- High blood pressure — check your blood pressure once every two years. If it’s higher than 120/80, you’ll want to get it checked more often or even check it at home.
- High cholesterol — it’s not typically recommended that men start screening for high cholesterol until the age of 40, but if you’re considered high-risk, you’ll want to check in with your healthcare provider to see if you require early testing
- Obesity — get obesity screening every two years if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher
- STIs — opt to get tested every month or every few months if you change partners frequently
- Diabetes — get a test if you’re in the high-risk category
Health tests men should get in their 40s and 50s
You might start thinking about your health a little bit more in this age bracket. Prevention is key for so many health issues and diseases. Recommended tests for men in their 40s and 50s include screening for:
- High blood pressure — get checked every year and talk to your healthcare provider if your blood pressure is consistently high. They may recommend medication to help keep it at target or even recommend home blood pressure monitoring for a better big picture.
- High cholesterol — get tested every five years. You should get checked more often if you have diabetes, heart disease, or a family history of high cholesterol.
- Lung cancer — if you were a heavy smoker, currently smoke, or have quit over the past 15 years, you’ll want to get tested
- Colorectal cancer — colon cancer testing can involve a FIT, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is more likely if you have inflammatory bowel disease, are obese, are a smoker, or have a family history of colorectal cancer. Screening should be discussed with your healthcare provider if this is the case.
- Prostate cancer — men should be screened for prostate cancer around age 55, but if you’re in the high-risk category, speak to your doctor about getting tested earlier
- Diabetes — get checked every three years. If you have high-risk factors like a family history or being overweight, talk to your doctor about being checked more often.
- STIs — get tested every month or every few months if you change partners frequently
Health tests for men 50 and over
At 50 and over, it’s time to start thinking about healthy aging. More health problems crop up as you age, but with proper maintenance, you can help preserve your wellness. You should get screened for:
- High blood sugar — at least once a year
- High cholesterol — every five years, but more frequently if you have diabetes, heart disease, or a family history of high cholesterol
- Osteoporosis — get a BMD if you’re in your 50s to 70s, have low-weight, smoke, drink alcohol heavily, or have a family history of the disease
- Colorectal cancer — if you’re between the ages of 50 to 74 without a high risk for colorectal cancer, get a FIT every two years. If you’re at a high risk, your healthcare provider may recommend colon cancer screening more often
- Prostate cancer — usually every two to three years, but speak to your healthcare provider about when they recommend getting screened
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm — you only need to get tested once if you’re between the ages of 65 to 75
Preventative health maintenance with Maple
If you only commit to one test, make it your preventive health checkup. You’ve probably been told that getting an annual physical exam is a good health practice. But depending on your health, you don’t need an annual physical like was once thought — unless you have a history of health complications, for example.
A general health assessment with Maple is a preventative health checkup that gives you a 360-degree view of your health. This doesn’t replace in-person visits with your doctor; rather, it detects health risks before they become more serious. Appointments take place online at a time and date that work for you. The healthcare provider may recommend lab tests to complete the checkup, and blood test results are also shared with you from the comfort of your home.
Men tend to be stoic about preserving their health, but a preventative approach can help you feel more vital and have better long-term outcomes. If you’re unsure where to start, our doctors are always available for guidance. Remember — healthcare is self-care.
This blog was developed by our team and reviewed by a medical professional.