When it comes to men’s health, guys tend to be reactive rather than proactive. Unlike their female counterparts, many guys don’t keep a close eye on what’s happening with their bodies. Here, we speak to medical specialists about key men’s health concerns that might not be at the forefront of most people’s minds. From colonoscopy to prostate and cardiovascular screening, here’s what guys can do to maximise their health.
#1 Don’t pretend you’re fine – ask for help!
Though mental illness is a global issue that affects both genders, it’s something that can affect men and women quite differently. As a result, some disorders may be harder to recognise. For example, men who are depressed may show symptoms of anger and irritability rather than any typical signs of “the blues”.
Not only are males less likely than women to discuss their mental health issues with family and friends, they’re also less likely to seek help for fear of humiliation or shame. Some men see it as a sign of weakness and keep it all bottled up. Additionally, males are more likely to resort to more harmful coping methods in response to their distress. Males have a higher tendency towards substance abuse and antisocial behaviours than females.
Men’s health: Deciphering depression
According to DR NEIL FORREST of Osler Health International, sadness is a common and very vital emotion. However, it differs from depression, which describes a situation where a low mood has become pervasive, either in duration or severity.
“People who are depressed struggle to separate themselves from this ongoing sadness, which then starts to affect their ability to function as they did before,” he says.
Common symptoms of depression include a change in emotions or a lack of motivation, with social withdrawal being a very common sign. Other signs of mental health issues to look for include:
- confused thinking;
- a reduced ability to concentrate;
- an inability to cope with daily problems or stress;
- emotional outbursts;
- excessive fears or worries; and
- extreme feelings of guilt or worthlessness
There are physical symptoms you can look for too. These include change in appetite, libido or energy levels, a significant change in an individual’s weight in either direction, trouble sleeping and substance abuse.
If you think you may be depressed or struggling with some sort of mental health problem, contact your GP or find a doctor who you can to talk to.
Osler Health International
#02-27/02-34 Raffles Hotel Arcade, 328 North Bridge Road | 6332 2727
#B1-27 The Star Vista, 1 Vista Exchange Green | 6339 2727
#2 Discuss prostate screening with your doctor
Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers among males worldwide and is the second most common cancer for men in Singapore. However, if caught early, it is completely curable, explains DR LIM SEY KIAT TERENCE, senior consultant urologist and medical director at Assure Urology & Robotic Centre.
“Many patients who are diagnosed with prostate cancer in its early stages have gone on to make a full recovery. Statistics have shown that there is a 95 to 99 percent survival rate in men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer while it is localised. This percentage drops to 31 percent when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.”
Although most prostate cancer cases are diagnosed between the ages of 65 and 70, Dr Lim says it’s wise for men to discuss screening with their doctors from the age of 50, as this cancer type is usually asymptomatic in the very early stages. The risk of developing prostate cancer increases with age, so it could be worth going for a check-up even if you don’t have symptoms. Other risk factors include having a family history of the disease, cigarette smoking and being of African- American descent.
“With regular monitoring, prostate cancer can be detected earlier and treatment can start promptly if required, increasing the chances of recovery,” says Dr Lim. “After discussion with your urologist, regular PSA testing may be recommended in men above the ages of 50 to 55 years.”
Be proactive with men’s health prostate screening
Luckily, there’s a way to detect this common men’s health issue early on. Unlike many other cancers, there is a simple blood test that can help doctors predict the risk of prostate cancer in its early stages when the disease is still asymptomatic. The Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test analyses the levels of PSA in the blood; an elevated PSA can indicate prostate inflammation, infection, enlargement or cancer.
However, an elevated PSA level does not necessarily mean that you have cancer, says Dr Lim. “You will need further evaluation by your urologist, who will perform a digital rectal examination to detect any suspicious nodules in your prostate. Additionally, other diagnostic tests like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the prostate will help to further stratify the risk of cancer. The confirmation test is a biopsy of the prostate under ultrasound with or without MRI fusion to obtain tissues for definitive diagnosis of cancer.”
Treating prostate cancer
Not all cases are aggressive or require treatment, says Dr Lim. It really depends on the severity of the individual patient’s cancer. For example, doctors may not necessarily treat prostate cancer immediately if it’s in the early stages and the cancer is low- risk.
“Instead, they may recommend active surveillance, which involves regular blood tests, rectal exams and prostate biopsies to monitor the progression of low-risk prostate cancer, which tends to be slow growing.”
If prostate cancer does require treatment, he says there are various options available. Treatment options are dependent on the stage of the cancer. Localised prostate cancers can be treated with radiation therapy or surgery such as radical prostatectomy, which involves the removal of the entire prostate. Thankfully, advancements in technology have introduced laparoscopic or robot-assisted alternatives, which entail smaller incisions and less tissue damage, shorter hospital stays, faster recovery and better outcomes.
“Treatment of advanced prostate cancers, where the cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body, usually involve androgen deprivation therapy combined with novel hormonal agents or chemotherapy.”
#3 Get a colonoscopy
Colorectal cancer isn’t exclusively a men’s health issue, though it is the third most common cancer in men worldwide. In Singapore, it’s the most common type of malignancy in males, with 9,320 new cases diagnosed between 2010 and 2014, says DR DENNIS KOH, senior consultant and colorectal surgeon at StarMed Specialist Centre.
“Colorectal cancer typically develops from non-cancerous growths, called polyps, that grow in the lining of the large intestine,” he says. “From the moment they develop, it can take up to 10 years for these non-cancerous growths to turn cancerous.”
The good news is that polyps can be detected and removed during a colonoscopy, thus preventing the development of cancer.
Done under sedation, colonoscopy is a quick outpatient procedure in which a thin tube with a fibre optic camera is inserted into the rectum. This allows for the detection of polyps, ulcers and other conditions. It also allows for a biopsy, and on-the-spot removal of benign and potentially pre-cancerous polyps.
Colonoscopy is a no-pain procedure
Recent studies show that many people – even those with an increased risk – choose to forgo colonoscopy screening out of fear of pain or discomfort. The truth is, there’s no discomfort felt during or after the colonoscopy procedure, says Dr Koh. The only possible “discomfort” is the colonoscopy prep, which involves drinking a laxative solution to empty the bowels prior to the procedure.
In Singapore, colonoscopy screening is recommended from the age of 50 years for adult men and women with a normal risk profile. Many countries, including the US, are recommending even earlier starts, at the age of 45, says Dr Koh.
#4 Consider a cardiovascular screening
As coronary artery disease (CAD) is the top-killing disease in the world, it’s obviously vital to do what we can to prevent it. And, there’s more you can do to minimise your chances of a heart attack or stroke than leading a healthy lifestyle. Regular cardiovascular screening can detect CAD in its early stages when there are no symptoms – thus helping to prevent or even cause regression of the disease, says DR PETER TING, medical director and cardiologist at StarMed Specialist Centre.
What does cardiovascular screening entail?
Diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, poor sleep, excess alcohol, obesity, extreme stress and poor diet are all factors that put someone at a higher risk of CAD. So, essential to the cardiovascular health screening process is identifying the presence and number of risk factors an individual has. A risk assessment – which includes a discussion of one’s medical history, physical examination and blood tests – allows for early preventative interventions, which may include lifestyle changes and, potentially, medication. This can be done as early as 18 to 20 years old, says Dr Ting.
Also key to cardiovascular screening is an evaluation of the blood vessel health. Heart attacks are caused when the arteries become severely narrowed, leading to loss of blood supply to the heart muscle. Imaging modalities that can reveal the presence of asymptomatic narrowing in the arteries can be an invaluable pre-emptive step. Dr Ting advises men to consider having imaging tests done between the ages of 40 and 50. For women, he recommends testing between the ages of 50 and 60.
“Traditional non-invasive ways to check for significant narrowing of the coronary arteries include an ECG and treadmill tests. These are simple and relatively inexpensive to do, but have lower accuracy, particularly in picking up blockages at an earlier stage,” he says. A coronary angiogram, however, allows direct imaging of the coronary arteries and even reveals the degree of narrowing that’s occurring.
Of course, a cardiologist should be consulted to find out which type of cardiovascular screening is most suitable for you and your risk profile, if and when you need to repeat those tests, and what the results mean for you.
StarMed Specialist Centre
12 Farrer Park Station Road
6322 6333 | starmedspecialist.com
#5 Protect your skin
He may be quick to lather up the kids with sunscreen, but chances are he’s “forgetting” about himself more often than not, and failing to adequately protect his own skin. Mums are guilty of this too, of course – it’s not only a men’s health issue. But, studies have shown that men are even less likely to use sunscreen as part of their daily routines.
In addition to using a sunscreen with a high-factor SPF, it’s also wise to wear a hat, especially if you have to be outside during the hottest part of the day: noon! Of course, it’s best to stay out of the noonday sun to begin with, when possible. And, if you feel your skin start to redden, get some shade; even a single sunburn can increase your risk of skin cancer.
Spot the signs
Being cautious in the sun isn’t the only way to defend your skin. Checking your skin regularly for any changes can literally be a lifesaver.
DR DENNIS LIM, a general surgeon with expertise in head and neck surgery, and a surgical oncologist specialising in the treatment of skin cancer, says he too often sees male patients who have disregarded warning signs and waited too long before getting medical attention.
“Regardless of how many moles you have, a mark that has increased in size or sensitivity, or is itching or bleeding, should be looked at immediately by a dermatologist. This could be a sign of skin cancer, including melanoma,” he says.
To be safe, it’s best to monitor your skin and see a dermatologist once a year for a health screening. This is the case even if there aren’t any warning signs on your skin, he says.
“Dermatologists use dermascopes and have the proper training to know what to look out for. Some even document and scan all your moles to compare the results between annual appointments.”
Dennis Lim Surgery
#11-09 Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre,
3 Mount Elizabeth
6836 5167 | dennislim.com.sg
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