An important part of maintaining good health is knowing your body well enough to recognize when something just is not right. If you’re experiencing prolonged, out-of-the-ordinary symptoms like coughing bouts, shortness of breath, lingering pain and discomfort or any mysterious lumps, you should see your doctor promptly for evaluation.
But don’t wait until warning bells are going off to visit your doctor. Even when you feel perfectly fine, it’s vital to undergo certain exams that can detect cancer early and improve your chances for a cure.
We spoke to Cary Presant, M.D., in the Department of Medical Oncology & Theraputics Research, at City of Hope, about the five tests every man age 55 and under needs to take, whether experiencing specific symptoms or not.
1. Skin cancer check - Men who have a family history of skin cancer and those who have moles — particularly moles that change in size, color or shape — should have their skin checked annually. Primary care doctors or dermatologists can perform this exam.
“Skin cancer checks are really important for patients in general, and they should get them about once a year from their regular doctor, or preferably from a dermatologist,” Presant said.
“It’s useful for picking up the very aggressive skin cancers like melanomas, but it’s also useful for picking up precancerous lesions, certain keratoses and for picking up the basal cell and squamous cell cancers when they’re small and very easily treated.”
2. Prostate exam -This simple exam is nothing to dread and takes just a few seconds once a year.
Using a finger, a general practitioner or urologist will quickly check the size of a patient’s prostate and whether or not any lumps or nodules are present.
“Frequently, this is combined with a PSA blood test or some of the newer tests that go beyond just a plain PSA to determine if there’s any evidence of a small prostate cancer beginning to develop,” Presant explained.
“This should be an annual examination after the age of 50, or even earlier if you have a family history of prostate cancer or if you’re African-American.”
3. Testicular exam - Many times, a testicular exam can be paired with a prostate exam in one appointment.
“A testicular exam should be performed in all males and can be done by the family practitioner to make sure there are no lumps developing. It can be done any time after the age of 10, so it’s a lifelong type of thing that you should have done once a year,” said Presant.
4. Colonoscopy - It only takes about 20 minutes to complete a colonoscopy, but because you are put under light anesthesia to avoid side effects, you will need to block off at least half a day to commit to the test.
“The colonoscopy is a test that should be done once every five to 10 years. If there’s a family history of colon cancer or a family history of uterine cancer, the colonoscopy can start at an earlier time,” said Presant.
“Patients who are particularly at risk for colon cancer and should have colonoscopies possibly more frequently are patients who have had polyps, patients who have a family history of colon cancer or patients who have had the inflammatory bowel disease colitis.”
5. Lung cancer screening - At age 55, men who are current or former smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke should be screened for lung cancer yearly.
“The lung cancer screening that is most effective is a CT scan,” said Presant. "The helical CT scan is very fast, very easy, does not involve the injection of any dye and it can pick up cancers when they’re highly curable."
In addition to these tests, be sure to get oral exams regularly as well as tests for hepatitis B and C, the viruses that can lead to liver cancer.
Staying on top of your health by scheduling these exams can grant you peace of mind now and potentially save your life later.