As you get older, it can take a while to realise you’re not bulletproof when it comes to your health. Especially if you’re putting off important checkups or taking a “she’ll be right” attitude towards any symptoms you’re experiencing. However, there are some health screenings to keep in mind with each additional candle on the birthday cake, to catch any concerns before they’re too late to fix.
Health checks at home
Be proactive about your health by doing a few simple self-checks, every so often.
Getting familiar with the look and feel of your genitals is important so when something is amiss, you notice it and can get it sorted ASAP. A testicular self-examination (sometimes called a TSE) is a quick and simple check that’s easier after a warm bath or shower when the skin of the scrotum is relaxed.
- Gently roll one testis between the thumb and fingers to feel for any lumps or swellings in or on the surface of the testis.
- Repeat with the other testis.
- Don’t worry if one testis is a little bigger or hangs lower than the other — that’s normal. The testes should feel firm and the surface should feel smooth.
- Using the thumb and fingers, feel along the epididymis at the back of the testis and check for any swelling in this area. If there is any change to how the testes feel normally, see your doctor straight away.
Men have a 70% chance of developing skin cancer in their lifetime and make up 69% of deaths from skin cancer. Regularly checking your skin will help you get to know what’s normal for you so you can notice any changes. Keep an eye out for new spots or changes to freckles or moles you already have.
- In a room with good light completely undress and use a full-length mirror to check your whole body. Use a handheld mirror to see those hard-to-reach spots.
- Pay particular attention to areas like your armpits, scalp, between your fingers and toes, and the bottom of your feet.
- Look for changes in colour, size, feel or outline of your moles or freckles.
- Look for symptoms like itching, tingling, bleeding or weeping.
- If anything looks suspicious, see your doctor straight away.
Find more information and images of skin cancer and its signs here.
On average, one in eight men will have depression and one in five men will experience anxiety at some stage of their lives. Recognising the symptoms of these common and serious mental health conditions is important. You might associate depression with sadness and hopelessness, but symptoms also include irritability and anger, unnecessary risk-taking, and alcohol or drug abuse. Beyond Blue’s Mind Quiz is a completely confidential way to check in on your mental wellbeing and helps you keep tabs on how well you’re sleeping, whether you’re experiencing physical symptoms like difficulty breathing or tension in your body, how often you’re feeling stressed or low, and how you’re reacting to challenges. If you’re struggling, chat with your doctor as soon as possible. If you need help now, call Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), Beyond Blue (1300 224 636), or MensLine (1300 78 99 78) anytime, anywhere in Australia.
What to chat to your doctor about
It’s a good idea for anyone who is sexually active to have regular sexual health checks, but especially when you change sexual partners, you’ve had unsafe sex, your partner has recently had a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or you think you might have an STI. Not all STIs have obvious symptoms so there’s a chance you, or your sexual partner, could have one without knowing it. STIs can also have serious long-term complications if they go untreated so it’s well worth getting over any awkwardness you might feel. You can get tested at your GP or a sexual health clinic, where they’ll chat about your sexual history and often take a urine sample. Sometimes your sexual health check might include a swab or blood test. The whole process is private, confidential and health professionals are trained to make it as comfortable as possible.
If you’re thinking about starting a family in the next 12 months, chat to your doctor about doing a pre-conception health check. There are many things that can affect your fertility, including being overweight, smoking, older age, STIs and exposure to harmful chemicals. These factors won’t just reduce the chance of pregnancy they can also affect the health of your baby, so it’s important to get on top of them early. Your Fertility has a handy pre-conception checklist you can fill out online to take to the doctor with you. Your doctor will chat with you about any changes you need to make to your health and tests you might need.
If you're 45 and over, or 30 and over if you're of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, you should have a heart health check. This will involve checking your blood pressure, cholesterol levels (with a blood test), body mass index (BMI), and, if your health and medical history require it, an electrocardiogram (ECG). Many men aren’t aware of the risk factors or early symptoms of cardiovascular disease, so it’s important to work with a GP to keep on top of your heart health.
Over 90% of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully if found early but that occurs in fewer than 50% of cases. Your risk of bowel cancer increases as you get older and at 50 you should start screening for the disease, even if you have no symptoms. Every two years (until you turn 74) the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program will send you a free, easy test kit in the mail that you can do at home.
Type 2 diabetes
The risk of type 2 diabetes increases for men after you hit 50, or 35 if you’re from an Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Pacific Island, Indian subcontinent or Chinese cultural background. Factors like poor diet, family history, physical inactivity, and being overweight or obese, can also increase your risk of developing the condition. Depending on your risk level and doctor’s advice, you may need to be tested annually or once every three years. Strong evidence shows that type 2 diabetes can be prevented in up to 58% of cases in the high risk (pre-diabetes) population by eating well and exercising, so these screenings are critical for catching the issue early. You can understand your risk of developing type 2 diabetes here and take this information to your next doctor’s appointment.
Osteoporosis is a condition where bones lose minerals such as calcium more quickly than the body can replace them, making them more fragile. You often won’t realise you have osteoporosis until a bump or fall leaves you with a fracture. If you’re 70 or over, talk to your doctor about getting bone density testing, which is measured with a dual-energy absorptiometry scan or DXA. If you have low testosterone or have broken a bone from a minor fall, you’ll need to be tested earlier. If osteoporosis is diagnosed early and treated, bone loss can be slowed down. All men should understand and manage the risk factors for osteoporosis you can control as you get older, such as not being physically active, low muscle mass and strength, smoking, high alcohol intake and an unhealthy diet.
Should I have prostate cancer screening?
Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in Australian men, particularly in those over the age of 50. The PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test can help detect or monitor prostate cancer, but it is not recommended for all men who do not have symptoms of prostate cancer. There are several things to think about before having a PSA test for prostate cancer such as your age, level of concern, family history, and the risk and benefits of finding it early. If the results from a PSA test are raised, you’ll need to make some decisions about what to do next. The benefit of a PSA test is that it might discover prostate cancer when it’s small and can be cured, but risks include the possible side effects of unnecessary surgery or radiotherapy for low-risk cancers. Discuss the potential benefits and risks of PSA tests with your doctor and learn more about the evolution of PSA testing and current recommendations here.
To learn more about the different health checks you need at each stage of life, visit malehealth.org.au. To help promote men’s health in your workplace, community group or clinic, order our free Spanner in the Works toolkit.