Five health self-checks every man should do (part 2)

August 20, 2014

A lot can happen between visits to the doctor—especially since more than half of men skip out on their annual physical examinations, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. So we continue our look at signs and self-checks every man should do.

Check: your breasts (yes, men, you have them)

If you see: One growing.

It could mean: Sure, you call them pecs. But they still contain breast tissue, and that means they can develop— you guessed it—breast cancer. While only about 2,140 cases of male breast cancer are diagnosed annually, breast self-exams are a good idea since men don’t routinely get mammograms. “Breast cancer in men is usually diagnosed at a later state, and that’s because we ignore it,” says Bruce B. Campbell, MD, a men’s health specialist at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Massachusetts. About once a month, while you’re in the shower scrubbing up, look for any changes in the size of your breasts, feel for lumps (including around your pits), and flag any changes in the color or shape of your nipples. Follow up: See your physician for an examination. If anything seems suspicious, he or she may order a mammogram or ultrasound to get a look at what’s going on under the skin. And while breast cancer is on your mind, look at your family tree. About one out of five men who develop the cancer have a close family history, according to the American Cancer Society.

Check: your stream If you have: Trouble urinating.
It could mean: Stop blaming bladder shyness. Your bathroom troubles might be caused by an enlarged prostate gland, which could be a sign of cancer, Campbell says. How? Here’s a quick anatomy lesson: The prostate gland surrounds the upper part of the male urethra, so if it swells or develops a growth, it can easily cut off urine flow, making it more difficult to start, stop, or keep a steady stream going.

Follow up: It’s time for a prostate exam. One man in six will get prostate cancer during his lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. And as one in 36 men will die of the disease, early diagnosis is critical. But before you freak out, remember this: An enlarged prostate doesn’t mean you necessarily have cancer. While the cause of benign prostate enlargement isn’t known, many men over the age of 40 experience the condition, according to the National Institutes of Health. A digital rectal exam or blood test can determine if you need to go ahead with a biopsy.

Check: your mouth
If you see: A new sore or
bump that doesn’t go away.
It could mean: Don’t chalk it up as an obstinate canker sore. A sore or bump on your gums, tongue, throat, or lips that doesn’t go away could be cancerous. About 40,250 people—most of whom will be men—will get oral cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Research shows that oral cancer is twice as common in men as in women, possibly because of cancercausing HPV infections, which cannot be tested for in men. Follow up: Call up your doctor or dentist for an examination. If he or she sees or feels anything suspicious, further tests using a special dye, light, or brush to biopsy cells (don’t worry, it’s relatively painless) can help identify exactly what the abnormality is.

Check: your waist
If you see: A circumference of more than 37 inches.
It could mean: You know what they say: Big waist, big pants. And possibly diabetes and cardiovascular disease. “Belly fat acts like a factory, where 24/7, it’s producing inflammatory juices that can increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease,” Campbell says. More than one in three men have a form of heart disease and 11.8 percent of men ages 20 and older have diabetes—and excess weight is a main risk factor for both. To get the most accurate results, use a cloth measuring tape or string and wrap it around your waist just above your belly button. And do yourself a favor – don’t cheat.

Follow up: Slim down! Reducing your waist size can significantly cut your chances of developing heart disease and diabetes, Campbell says. Also, you should talk to your doctor about any other risk factors you may have, even if you seem to be symptom-free. Half of men who die suddenly from coronary heart disease have no symptoms, according to the American Heart Association.