Understanding Men’s Health

Diego Ponieman, M.D., M.P.H.

By: Diego Ponieman, M.D. M.P.H.

June is national Men’s Health Month, which serves as an important reminder for men to take care of themselves physically and mentally.

A big challenge I face as a Primary Care Physician is getting male patients to come in for an annual physical. In Latin culture – and I’ve found this to be true with men of many cultures – a false sense of “machismo” gets in the way of having an annual wellness exam and a forthright discussion of symptoms and concerns.

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, men are 24 percent less likely than women to have visited a doctor within the past year. Here are a few eye-opening statistics:

  • On average, men live five years less than women.
  • 13 million American men have diabetes.
  • One in two men are diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime, compared to one in three women. The most prevalent are skin cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, and colorectal cancer.

Let me take a moment to highlight prostate cancer because it is unique to men. Unfortunately, many of my male patients are squeamish about it, but open communication with your doctor is so critical to early detection and treatment.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men – behind skin cancer – and the American Cancer Society estimates that more than 26,000 men will die from this disease in 2017.

The risk of developing prostate cancer largely depends on family history; you have a much higher risk if your father, brother, or a close blood relative have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. It’s important to know your family’s medical history and share that information with your doctor.

Know the warning signs

It’s also important to knowing the early warning signs:

  • Painful or difficult urination
  • Frequent urination, especially at night
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Reduced urinary flow or velocity
  • Blood in the urine

If you experience these symptoms, don’t delay in talking with your physician. Come to the appointment with questions and concerns. Talk about your family medical history. Don’t be embarrassed to talk about topics like sex, anxiety, or depression. No topic is off limits.

Your doctor’s job is to help you stay healthy, not just to treat you when you’re sick! Here are a few tips for good prostate health, as well as good health in general:

  • See your doctor regularly! Starting at 50, you should be getting screened for prostate cancer annually. If you have a family history, start going at 45.
  • Exercise regularly. You should aim for 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise, several days a week; men who climb 50 steps or walk 5 city blocks a day may lower their risk of heart attack by 25 percent.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. Red fruits such as tomatoes and watermelon have high levels of lycopene which may help reduce the risk for prostate cancer.
  • Don’t smoke. Tobacco use has been found to increase the risk for prostate cancer.

Reduce the amount of red meat you consume. While poultry is always a good option, the omega-3 acids in salmon and tuna may help lower the risk of getting prostate cancer.