Published on June 27, 2023
Cancer screenings are not ‘one size fits all.’ The best way to start the screening process and find out what is right for you is to visit your health care provider. Most people don’t see signs or symptoms of cancer until the disease is in advanced stages, and according to the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s 2023 Early Detection Survey, it is the top reason men are not getting their routine cancer screenings. Routine screenings can detect cancer early, which can lead to better outcomes, less extensive treatment and better chances of survival.
According to a 2022 study, 53% of white men and 63% of men of color do not get their regular health screenings.1 Men are less likely to go to the doctor, and many feel they don’t need their annual checkup.2 This Men’s Health Month, the Prevent Cancer Foundation encourages all men to check their health by visiting their health care provider and asking these three vital questions:
If you don’t have a primary care physician, visit our website to find one near you and book an appointment.
1. What cancer screenings do I need?
Based on your risk, your health care provider will recommend what cancer screenings are appropriate for you. Factors such as family and personal medical history as well as lifestyle play a role in determining your risk for cancer. Even men at average risk should get routine cancer screenings based on their age.
If you are at average risk for colorectal cancer, start getting screened at age 45, and continue getting screened through age 75 if you are in good health. If you are at increased risk for colorectal cancer, your health care provider may recommend you start earlier than 45 and/or get screened more frequently. More adults under the age of 50 are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer than ever before; familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms to catch colorectal cancer early. Additionally, there are other colorectal screenings options besides a colonoscopy. Talk to your health care provider about which screening option is right for you.
At age 50, start discussing prostate cancer screening with your health care provider (if you are at average risk). Prostate cancer screening comes with pros and cons, uncertainties and risks, so talk to your health care provider about what is right for you. If you are at increased risk due to family history (as discussed below), your provider may recommend that you start screening earlier. Also, if you are Black, you are at higher risk for prostate cancer and should consider beginning screening at age 45. Common symptoms of prostate cancer might also be caused by other health issues and are not due to cancer at all; with your provider’s help, you can reach a diagnosis.
Your annual visit is a great time to get checked for skin cancer, especially since men are more likely than women to get nonmelanoma skin cancer. You can check your own skin once a month for possible signs of melanoma, and your health care provider can examine your skin every year as well. If you are concerned about or notice any changes to moles you have, be sure to bring it to their attention.
While testicular cancer is rare, it is most commonly seen in younger men ages 20-39 (but can occur at any age). If you notice any changes to your testicles, talk to your health care provider right away. White men are more likely to develop testicular cancer than any other group. Your health care provider can examine your testicles as a part of your annual physical and provide you with information about conducting self-exams.
2. How does my family history of cancer (or lack thereof) affect my cancer risk?
Sharing your family health history with your health care provider can help determine if you are at increased risk for any cancers. If you have a family history of certain types of cancer (or other diseases), you may be at increased risk for similar or related cancers. For example, if you have a close relative (such as your father or brother) who had prostate cancer before the age of 65, you may be at increased risk and should start talking to your health care provider about prostate cancer screening when you are 45. (If more than one close relative had prostate cancer before 65, begin the discussion when you are 40).
Certain gene mutations, such as BRCA mutations, also increase your risk for cancer. The BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations are most often associated with breast or ovarian cancer in women, but can also cause breast, pancreatic or prostate cancer in men. (Though less common than breast cancer in women, men can get breast cancer, too). These gene mutations occur in all races and ethnicities but is more common among those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. In addition to BRCA gene mutations, there are other types of mutations that are linked to hereditary cancer syndromes (such as Lynch syndrome). For those with a family history of cancer, genetic testing can help determine if you have an elevated risk for certain cancers.
Even if you do not have a family history of cancer, you are still at risk, which is why your routine cancer screenings are so important. Use this helpful family history medical chart to document your family’s health history and guide your conversation with your health care provider.
3. What can I do between now and my next visit?
With the knowledge we have today, we know that up to 50% of cancer cases and about 50% of cancer deaths are preventable. Along with scheduling and getting your routine screenings, lifestyle changes are a powerful and effective way to prevent cancer. Some of the best ways to reduce your risk include:
Your health care provider can identify what lifestyle changes you may need to make and suggest different exercises, foods, activities and more to improve your health and well-being. Before you leave your appointment, make sure to schedule your next yearly physical and any screenings your provider recommends.
Discussing your health can be daunting, but with these questions and resources, that process will hopefully be easier. Routine cancer screenings and checkups are essential for everyone to protect their health. For more information on what screenings and checks you may need and how to reduce your risk, download the Guide to Preventing Cancer.
This blog post uses the term “men” to refer to cisgender men and mainly discusses questions relevant to cisgender men and/or those assigned male at birth. Resources for transgender men, non-binary people and other members of the LGBTQ+ community can be found here.