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Lifesaving Health Tests for Men

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In Your 50s:

Over the hill? No, not you. You may have reached the big 5-0, but chances are, you won’t feel much different in this decade than in the one before it. Keep up those healthy habits, schedule regular screening tests and make sure to check in with your doctor about any health concerns you may have.

 

Colonoscopy

Why you need it: Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women; it’s estimated that more than 51,000 people will die of colorectal cancer this year alone. Men have a slightly higher risk of colorectal cancer than women. Yet many men shy away from getting screened.

Men tend to avoid colonoscopies because of the preparation (fasting and drinking large amounts of a fluid to cleanse the bowels) and the procedure itself. But a colonoscopy can detect colon cancer and colonic polyps, which may be benign but could become cancerous as they grow.

What the test is like: You will be sedated enough to make you more comfortable, and while you will still be awake, you probably won’t remember anything from the procedure afterwards. As you lie on your left side, the doctor will insert a narrow, flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end (called a colonoscope) up your rectum. The doctor will exam the lining of your bowels thru the camera, and may take tissue samples or remove polyps for examination.

When to start: A colonoscopy is recommended for healthy adults every 10 years, starting at age 50. A man with a family history of colon cancer should get his first colonoscopy 10 years earlier than when that relative was diagnosed.

Here's what else you need to know about colonoscopies.

 

In Your 60s and 70s:

 

 

As you age, your risk for health problems and infections increases. Certain vaccines and regular checkups with your doctor can help ensure you stay in tip-top shape throughout your golden years.

 


Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Why you need it: The aorta is a major blood vessel that acts as the body’s main supplier of blood. An abdominal aortic aneurysm occurs when the lower part of the aorta becomes weak and bulges. If the aorta ruptures, life-threatening bleeding occurs.

Not all abdominal aortic aneurysms burst. Slow-growing ones likely won’t, but fast-growing ones can. If you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm, your doctor will either suggest immediate treatment — such as emergency surgery — or closely monitor you, depending on the size of the aneurysm.

Men who have smoked cigarettes at some point during their lives have the highest risk of having an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

What the test is like: The best way to screen for an abdominal aortic aneurysm is through an abdominal ultrasound. During this painless procedure, you lay on your back on an exam table. A small amount of warm gel is applied directly to your abdomen. The lab technician, nurse, or doctor uses an instrument, called a transducer, and moves it and the gel all over your abdomen. The transducer sends images of the insides of your abdomen to a computer, so the technician, nurse, or doctor can see potential signs of an aneurysm.

Computerized tomography, CT scans or magnetic resonance imagining (MRIs) can also be used to check for abdominal aortic aneurysms, but ultrasounds are the preferred and most commonly used method of screening.

When to start: The USPTF recommends that men who have smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime get screened once for an abdominal aortic aneurysm between ages 65 and 75. If you have a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysm, your doctor may suggest getting screened as early as age 60.

 

Bone Mineral Density

Why you need it: About 10 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become weak and brittle — and 34 million more people in the U.S. are at risk. Osteoporosis is often thought of as a woman’s disease — and while women are four times more likely to get osteoperois than men, men are still at risk.

What the test is like: A bone mineral density test can help determine your risk for osteoporosis. The test uses X-rays to measure the amount of calcium and other minerals are present in a segment of bone, typically your wrist, lower spine and hip, depending on the type of test done. The higher your mineral count, the denser and stronger your bones are.

When to start: A bone density test is recommended for men over the age of 70. If you’re younger than 70, but at high risk for osteoporosis (if, for instance, you’ve broken a bone after age 50 or have a family history of osteoporosis), talk to your doctor about when and how often you should be screened.

Learn more about osteoporosis.

 

Flu Vaccine

Why you need it: While the flu vaccine is recommended for most people over 6 months old, it’s especially critical that those over the age of 65 are vaccinated. Because the immune system weakens with age, seniors are more susceptible to the flu, and recover less easily from the respiratory virus, which can develop into pneumonia or aggravate another illness. Ninety percent of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people ages 65 and older.

When to get it: The CDC recommends getting vaccinated annually in October. Because different strains of the flu virus develop each year, an annual vaccination ensures that you get the most up-to-date vaccination.

Have questions about the flu vaccine? Find your answers here.

 

Pneumonia Vaccine

Why you need it: Pneumonia is a lung infection caused by bacteria or viruses that live in the nose and throat and are spread through coughing and sneezing. Although anyone can catch pneumonia, adults over the age of 65 are at a higher risk because their immune systems begin to weaken with age. In the U.S., pneumonia typically develops in adults who are battling the flu. Currently, there are two types of pneumonia vaccines available — pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV).

When to get it: Men over the age of 65 should receive the vaccine annually, along with their yearly flu shot.

 

Shingles Vaccine

Why you need it: Remember having chickenpox as a child? Well, after those red dots disappeared, the chickenpox virus stayed latent in your body. In some older adults, that virus reactivates as shingles — a viral infection that causes a severely painful rash.

However, some people should not get the shingles vaccinate. Do not get it if you:

  • have ever had a severe allergic reaction to any of the vaccine’s components;
  • have a weakened immune system due to HIV/AIDs or other diseases;
  • are taking drugs that affect the immune system, like steroids;
  • have had or are having cancer treatment like radiation or chemotherapy; or
  • have a history of cancer that targets bone marrow or the lymphatic system, like leukemia or lymphoma.

Talk with your doctor if you have questions about the shingles vaccine.

When to get it: Men over the age of 60 should receive the shingles vaccine. It’s a one-time vaccine, so there’s no need to be vaccinated annually.

 

Published November 6, 2012.

 

Jenilee Matz, MPH, is a medical writer, health educator, and triathlete based in Charlotte, NC. 

 

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