If you’re one of the men who see their doctor annually no matter what, skip reading the rest of this blog. However, if you’re like the more than 60% of men who shun annual check-ups, you will easily relate to what follows.
It’s commonly recognized that women get annual check-ups and regular tests like mammograms and Pap smears. Not so for men. According to a 2014 National Health Interview Survey, men are two times more likely than women to wait over 2 years from one doctor visit to the next.[i] A more recent poll conducted by the Cleveland Clinic in 2019 produced the astonishing fact that 72% of males would rather do chores like cleaning the bathroom rather than go to the doctor’s office.[ii] Really, the bathroom!?
There are several reasons for such behavior. When asked what keeps them from scheduling a medical appointment, many men say they just don’t have time because they’re too busy—which makes little sense if you count how many hours spent watching sports, to name just one typical male pastime. Another is fear that they might find out they have a disease or other problem, and of course countless men are too embarrassed to put themselves in the path of a digital rectal exam (DRE). There are also men whose more traditional macho beliefs about being strong and autonomous prevents them from seeking medical attention when they experience unusual symptoms—or who are simply too unaware of their bodies to experience them at all until they cause great discomfort or interfere with normal activities. Failure to see a doctor once a year puts men at risk of missing an opportunity for early detection and intervention to handle prostate cancer (PCa) or other condition.
Enlisting the help of women
Increasingly, medical centers and physicians are turning to a man’s “better half” for help because the majority are already committed to monitoring their bodies. The thinking goes that a woman who “stands by her man” will want to keep him as healthy as she keeps herself. They point out various ways that a woman can encourage her guy to go for a check-up. But there’s often a fine line between supporting him vs. taking responsibility for his well-being. Why put it on women to see to it that men get preventive exams and cancer screening? What will it take for men to become proactive on their own?
I believe the tide is turning as both men and women are increasingly health-conscious in America. There is generally better promotion of nutrition, working out, free screening events, etc. Even so, men still tend to take better care of their cars than their bodies. We know what will happen if we miss oil changes or ignore that check engine light. Why is auto maintenance and preventive service so much easier?
The case for personal responsibility
It’s obvious that I care about prostate health because that’s our specialty. A simple blood test (with back-up MRI if needed) is like the proverbial ounce of prevention that’s worth a pound of cure. But men’s health is much bigger than a walnut-sized gland. Men who spend long hours earning enough money to support their families and do enjoyable things are already exercising huge responsibility. Why not extend that same sense of family commitment to valuing their health? Annual wellness visits and/or physical exams can catch early symptoms of things that can become more difficult, even life-threatening, as time goes by without attending to them. For example:
- Snoring is no big deal unless it’s driving your partner crazy, right? But if there’s underlying obstructive sleep apnea, it may be straining your heart muscle and setting you up for arrythmias, even congestive heart failure.
- As men age, sexual performance may begin to diminish, something that’s easy to attribute to boredom in the bedroom or low T. But did you know it may be a sign of cardiovascular disease? The failure of blood vessels in the penis to fill sufficiently for an erection may signal a more central issue that is shrinking your lifespan as well as your penis.
- Experiencing shoulder or upper arm pain during certain movements, or gradual loss of range of arm motion, may be an early warning sign of a rotator cuff injury that could be handled with physical therapy and small lifestyle changes. Shoulder surgery/replacement is a big painful deal, far more excruciating and time-consuming than a 1-hour doctor visit.
- Balding may not only be a self-image issue. Thinning hair is normal as men age, but it can also be due to severe stress, thyroid problems, even autoimmune disease.
These are just a few of the reasons why a man should take as much responsibility for tuning up his health as he does for tuning up his car’s engine. Just because a man feels healthy doesn’t mean he is. Men who were brought up to numb off to their feelings are apt to numb off to subtle physical “check engine” lights—but how long would it take a busy man to retrain his entire mind and psyche to start practicing self-awareness? Wouldn’t it be easier to just make habit of scheduling an annual physical, or let a calendar app issue a yearly reminder to do so? Hop on the self-responsibility bandwagon. The life you save IS your own.
NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you have health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.
[ii] Ianzito, Christina. “Why Men Don’t Go to the Doctor.” AARP Healthy Living. Sep. 6, 2019. https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2019/survey-men-avoiding-doctors.html