There are many tasks men can accomplish while attending an annual routine physical. Cancer screenings, cardiac risk factors, sexual health concerns – all of these can be addressed during a single 30-minute visit once per year.
“Routine annual exams represent an important opportunity,” advises Brian Ash, MD, a Steward Health Care and Steward Medical Group internal medicine specialist.
Many men dismiss symptoms because they have a nonspecific anxiety about visiting a doctor’s office. In fact, men are far less likely than women to have visited a doctor within the past year, even when experiencing symptoms of potentially serious illness. However, these same men are much more likely to present with early symptoms of heart failure or cancer if they already have an established relationship with a physician.
“Earlier detection usually means that cancer cures can be achieved with minimally invasive interventions. For example, budding colon cancers can be removed during a routine screening colonoscopy, thus resulting in cancer cure by the time the 15-minute screening procedure is complete,” explains Dr. Ash.
Sometimes men shy away from visiting a physician for fear of being subject to outdated physical exam standards, such as optional rectal exam for prostate cancer screening. There are now recommendations against using the rectal exam as a routine part of annual prostate cancer screening in many patients, because a blood test, the PSA, has been refined to the degree that it is the sole technique utilized in many physician practices. Dr. Ash noted that men would sometimes comment on the fact that they’d have come in years earlier if they’d known that an annual exam does not necessarily involve a rectal exam.
Some general target ages for increased cancer risk, and therefore a need for screening, include prostate cancer (starting around the early 40s for some patients) and colon cancer (age 50 for most patients). There is always a level of risk for certain skin cancers, such as melanoma, and these can be detected with a routine screening exam and skin biopsy during the annual physical exam with a primary care physician.
“A comprehensive routine exam with a good physician includes a discussion of risk factors, options, and patient preferences,” says Dr. Ash.
If you have not had a routine checkup in recent years, this month would be a good time to consider making a habit of annual visits.
To find a doctor or schedule an appointment, visit Steward DoctorFinder™.