Guys are notoriously averse to seeing doctors, so it’s not surprising that a 2007 survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians found that 55% of men hadn’t had a physical exam in the past year, while 29% admitted to waiting “as long as possible” before seeking help when sick, in pain or concerned about their health.
The good news for the typical guy is that the concept of needing an annual checkup is outdated; every one to two years will suffice, though it’s generally agreed that the older you are, the more important regular checkups become. Just don’t ostrich yourself by putting off a checkup until you’re “less busy,” or simply assuming that everything is OK: That lassitude/denial inadvertently makes time for minor problems to become major, painful and possibly deadly ones. Cancer that’s detected early, for example, is much easier to treat.
When you book an appointment, let the receptionist know it’s for a physical exam (about half an hour needs to be blocked). Write down any questions you want to ask, plus a list of medications and supplements you’re already taking. If you’re switching doctors, ask your previous one to send over your medical files.
Here are six common mistakes men make when meeting with their doctors:
1a. Forgetting to disclose any supplements or over-the-counter meds you might be taking. This is crucial for drug interactions.
1b. Similar to above: Failing to disclose recreational drug use, smoking and alcohol consumption (as in: not whether or not you smoke and drink, but honestly how much), risky behaviours, etc.*
2. Not confirming whether third-party labs and clinics forward test results, scans, etc. to the doctor’s office.
3. Not asking about a doctor’s track record/experience re: surgeries. Nothing wrong with or offensive about asking.
4. Not asking for a second-opinion reference for dicey/sensitive/risky surgeries and prognoses. (A really good doctor will offer this without being asked.)
5. Not making sure that you understand everything about your prescription drugs — notably, what they are & what they’re supposed to do.
6. Not requesting clarification on tests/test results (blood test, urine test, X-ray, etc.). If you do not understand the information, there’s no shame in asking, repeatedly — the time is there and then. In fact, it might be the only time, so use it.
*If this intentional withholding is rooted in the fact that you and your partner see the same GP — (i) you can trust your GP to be discreet, and (ii) get a separate GP, anyhow.
Also, don’t forget that there are different health concerns for men at each stage of life:
20s and 30s: Testicular cancer is most common among men aged 15 to 49, so your doctor should screen for it as part of your physical. (And if you notice pain, a lump, or a heaviness or ache in your nether regions, don’t delay — make an appointment.)
40s and 50s: Screening for prostate cancer, the most common cancer in men, begins. Your doctor will draw blood for the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test and perform a digital rectal exam to check for lumps in your prostate gland. If you have a family history of prostate cancer or you have African ancestry, you’re at higher risk of developing this disease at a younger age. (If you notice any problems with urination or have painful ejaculations, see your doctor.)
60s and beyond: Screening for colorectal cancer and diabetes is done every few years. You might also start to have hearing tests, and your doctor may advise more immunizations to prevent health problems.
If you don’t have a doctor, or are looking for a new one, ask friends and family for a referral. You can also check with your province’s or territory’s medical association (often called the “college of physicians and surgeons”). If you’re in Ontario, use Health Care Connect.
Also, check out this helpful poster from the bros at Movember Canada for tips on staying healthy, and prevention advice from the Cancer Society of Canada to help reduce your risk factors.
Image courtesy of Powerhouse Museum Collection.