Updated 31 March 2014

Screening tests all men should have

Most men would rather set their shorts on fire or go to five children's parties in a row than go for a colon cancer screening or a prostate check-up. Here's why you should go.


If minimum hassle is your main objective, going for regular disease screening tests will probably reduce, rather than increase, your visits to the doctor. Simply ignoring a problem won't make it go away, but it will mean frequent medical attention once the situation has reached crisis proportions.

In many cases deaths can be prevented by early detection and treatment, and in others screening tests may lead to treatment and a better quality of life.

The screening tests a man needs
Here's a checklist for the most common, and he most preventable, conditions:

HIV test (Blood sample)
When? Every six months if you’re practising unsafe sex.
Why? With a healthy lifestyle, you may live symptom-free for many years. Appropriate treatment may add years and quality to your life.

Visit our HIV/Aids  Centre

Blood pressure (No needles)
When? Every two years when you are in your 20s and 30s, and once a year after that.
Why? Almost 90% of people older than 55 will develop high blood pressure. Your blood pressure should not exceed 120/80 mm Hg. People with blood pressure of 135/85 mm Hg have twice the risk of heart disease and an increased risk for stroke.

Read more: What do your numbers mean?

Cholesterol (Blood sample)
When? Every two years if there you are in your 20s or 30s and there is a family history of heart disease. If you are in your 40s or older: every time you go for a check-up.
Why? High cholesterol levels increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. Doctors recommend that all blood lipid levels should be checked and not only cholesterol levels.

Type 2 diabetes (Blood sample)
When? Everybody, no matter their age, should be tested every three years if they are at risk. People who are most at risk include those with a family history of diabetes, people who are overweight, or people who have high cholesterol levels or high blood pressure.
Why? If you have Type 2 diabetes, you are at higher risk for heart disease and eye problems.

Prostate (Blood sample for the PSA count, and/or a digital rectum examination. There is now also the possibility of a urine test.)
When? If you are in your 40s, once a once a year if you have a family history of prostate cancer or breast cancer, or if you are black. Once a year if you are 50 years or older. One in eight men in this group will develop prostate cancer. Typical signs may include difficulty in passing urine, enlarged lymph glands or blood in the urine.
Why? More SA men are affected by prostate cancer than any other cancer. Early detection increases your chances of survival.

Testicular self-exam (Speaks for itself)
When? Monthly, especially if you have undescended testes, previous history of a testicular tumour, brother or father with testicular tumours or if you are infertile. Look out for a painless lump or swelling of the testis, or a dull ache or heaviness in the scrotum or lower abdomen.
Why? Testicular cancer is the most common malignancy in males 15 – 35 years old. Early detection may really save your life. Lance Armstrong is an inspirational example.

Colon check (Preferably a colonoscopy - an internal investigation of the colon with a flexible instrument after sedation.)
When? If there is no family history of colon cancer, you should have your first colonoscopy at age 50. If there is a family history, make that age 40. Then a colonoscopy every 5 - 10 years, depending on your degree of risk. If more than one first-degree relative has developed colon cancer, you should go every 3 - 5 years. Take note of sudden changes in regular bowel habit, blood in stools; or colic, bloating or fullness.
Why? Colorectal cancer is the fifth most common cancer affecting South African men. If detected early, colon cancer is very treatable. Hereditary colorectal cancer is prevalent in some South African families: one in four cases are indeed genetic, and may be detected very early with DNA tests.

Skin check (Checking the appearance of a lesion. The doctor can also take a small sample of the lesion.)
When? Every year from the age of 40. Golfers, cricketers, farmers, fishermen and others spending a lot of time in the sun, are at high risk.
Why? Most forms of skin cancer, when detected early, can be treated very successfully.

Eye test
When? If in your twenties or thirties, every five years. Once every two years when you are in your 40s, and annually from 50 onwards. Watch out for blurry vision, obstructed vision or pain in the eye.
Why? Regular eye tests will detect weak eyesight, glaucoma and cataracts and may even save you from blindness.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated February 2014)

Read more: Man: Your body



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