One of the most impactful things anyone can do for their health is take a proactive step in prevention. And the research is clear: routine screenings are widely considered one of the most important strategies for facilitating early diagnosis and treatment for a variety of illnesses. Getting the right health screenings at the right times can even prevent premature death and improve quality of life. But understanding which screenings to get and when to get them can be tricky — particularly for men, who are at higher risk for many serious conditions like heart disease, lung cancer, and HIV — not to mention distinct health issues like prostate cancer.
“Many problems that health screening exams look for are silent,” says Rob Rohatsch, MD, Solv’s Chief Medical Officer. “By that I mean there are often not early noticeable symptoms for many diseases we try to screen for. Taking the time for self care should include medical screening for cancer and other issues that occur later in life for men. The good news about things like prostate cancer and colon cancer, is that they are treatable if caught early.”
A timeline of screenings for men through the decades
It’s important for all men, as well as their loved ones and partners, to be aware of key health screenings over time. While the essential tests may differ from year to year and decade to decade, Rohatsch says there are a few major ones everyone should have on their healthcare radar. “Prostate screening — which can be done via the combination of a digital rectal exam and a blood test — as well as colon cancer screening via colonoscopy, are the big ones,” he says. “Additional tests to consider based on possible symptoms include testosterone levels, cholesterol screening, and other basic lab tests.”
Every person is unique and it’s important to discuss exact timing for tests and screening with a healthcare provider. But here are the general guidelines every man — and his loved ones — should be aware of throughout the years.:
Essential screenings for men ages 18 to 39 include the following, according to MedlinePlus:
- Blood pressure: at least once every two years.
- Cholesterol: starting at age 35 for men with no known risk factors for coronary heart disease and age 20 for men with known risk factors for coronary heart disease. Men with normal cholesterol levels can have the test repeated every 5 years, while men with lifestyle changes like diet and weight should be screened sooner.
- Diabetes: If you are overweight (defined as a body mass index or BMI of over 25), you should be screened starting at age 35. The NIH recommends that Asian Americans be screened if their BMI is greater than 23.
- Infectious diseases: Everyone between the ages of 18 and 79 should get a one-time test for hepatitis C, and everyone should talk to their provider about individual screening guidelines for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Depending on a person’s medical history and lifestyle, they may need to be screened for infections like syphilis, chlamydia, HIV, and more.
Annual physical exams and bi-annual dental and eye exams may also be an important part of overall health maintenance, but every person should discuss the timing of these appointments with their own providers.
In addition to the screenings mentioned above, essential screenings for men ages 40 to 64 and above include the following, according to Medline Plus:
- Colorectal cancer: Men under the age of 45 should talk to their provider about getting screened if they have a strong family history of colon cancer or polyps or risk factors like a history of inflammatory bowel disease or polyps. The development of colorectal cancer can take about 10 years, though some people may experience faster or slower growth. Individuals have a 90 percent five-year survival rate when colorectal cancer is found at an early stage but that drops to a 14 percent when cancer is found in an advanced stage and has spread to distant organs. Most men between the ages of 45 to 75, should be screened for colorectal cancer according to the following schedule:
- A stool-based fecal occult blood (gFOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every year
- A stool sDNA test every 1 to 3 years
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 or every 10 years with stool testing FIT every year
- CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years
- Colonoscopy every 10 years
- Lung cancer: Men who are between the ages of 5 and 80 years old who currently have a 20 pack-year smoking history and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years should receive an annual screening
- Prostate cancer: The American Urological Association and the American Cancer Society recommend that men between the ages of 55 and 69 years-old talk to their healthcare providers about the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening. For those 55 years old and younger, screening is generally not recommended, but certain risk factors (like a family history) may influence a provider’s decision to recommend it. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends against people 70 years-old and above receiving routine PSA screenings.
If you or a man in your life have questions or concerns about which screenings to receive and when, a frank discussion with a trusted provider is an essential starting point. If you’re not sure where to find one, consider starting on Solv, which offers in-office visits and video visits in 40-plus states.