Experts say quality of life and life-expectancy can be increased considerably by changing only some bad lifestyle and habits.
November is Men’s Health Awareness Month and traditionally the month was used to focus on Prostate Cancer awareness.
So, why Men’s Health Awareness? Research tells us that boys and men are, in comparison to girls and women, in an unlucky position health-wise. The gap between the life expectancy in men is about 5-7 years less than that of women – the so-called gender gap. When it comes to health, men are the weaker sex. This “gender gap” is the reason why health-professionals globally when considering the gender gap and preventable causes, refer to the “crisis in men’s health”. Men die predominantly from illnesses like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, death related to mental health conditions like suicide as well as diseases relating to the liver and kidneys.
The reason for the “gender gap” is still debated but that men are genetically different from women has been proved as scientific fact. One fact that did emerge is that men don’t like to talk about their health problems. Men don’t see doctors as often as they should, and they beat around the bush where their health and wellness is concerned. Topics like erectile dysfunction (impotence) are still largely taboo, even though in many cases it is just a symptom of an underlying health problem that, if correctly diagnosed and treated, could be successfully addressed and the quality of life of the patients could drastically improve.
Men hardly take advantage of preventive medicine and live a “more dangerous” life than women do. Men die six times as often as women in car accidents, and the suicide-rate is considerably higher among men than women.
To some extent the onus is on yourself to make lifestyle changes that will not only prevent other chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, but cancer as well. Experts say quality of life and life-expectancy can be increased considerably by changing only some bad lifestyle and habits:
- Stop Smoking and avoid tobacco
- Stop excessive drinking and taking drugs (also over-the-counter medicines)
- Avoiding stress
- Manage your weight
- Eat the right foods – maintain a healthy diet
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid excessive exposure to the sun
- Avoid risky behaviour:
- Wear your seatbelt
- Don’t talk on your cellphone while driving
- Stick to safe sex practices
Just an important reminder – your mental health, including stress and depression, need as much attention as any physical illness. Aspects to considers is to not become a workaholic as it can increase stress and lead to undesirable lifestyle behaviour and chronic diseases. Balance in life is the mantra – mental, social, spiritual, emotional, and physical aspects.
Back to Cancers
Men should use this month not only to reflect on prostate cancer, but cancer in general – to prevent, to early diagnose and get earlier treatment with a better outcome following treatment. Remember, there is no age limit to cancer. It can start in boys and men. The cancers affecting all South African men, in order of prevalence, are prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, esophageal cancer, bladder cancer, cancers of blood and lymph nodes, testicular cancer and even breast cancer. It is also not a disease that happens in old age. Research in the USA has statistically demonstrated a thirty percent increase of cancer diagnoses among adolescents and young adults – 15 to 39 years old. The cancers most frequently diagnosed in this younger group of patients are cancers of the colon, thyroid, the testes, melanoma of the skin and cancer of the lymph nodes. Do not ignore the lump in your testes or the blood in your stools!
The Maintenance Check-up
Visit your family doctor at least once a year to check on everything. Just a reminder – your doctor is very dependent on what you disclose – the fact that you now have an irritating cough, the blood you saw in the toilet pan after passing a stool, the sudden weight loss without trying, the slight pain on swallowing is all important information to be disclosed.
Your doctor will also do screening tests which is checking whether you are at risk of or already have a disease. It should be started from a young age, and your screening needs will change as your age and lifestyle change. It may include:
- Weight/Height Measurements and body mass index (BMI). If you are overweight or obese, your risk of many diseases is increased including the risk of heart attack, diabetes, stroke and cancer.
- Blood Pressure: “Normal” pressure is on average 120/80mmHg. High blood pressure is a risk for many diseases. It normally causes no symptoms, but silently damages your heart and blood vessels, leading to conditions like erectile dysfunction, stroke, and heart attack.
- Blood Sugar (Glucose) Test: High blood sugar could indicate diabetes, an illness that may lead to many serious medical problems.
- Testicular Examination: The testicles should be self-examined monthly starting at the age of about 15. Become familiar with what is normal for you and report abnormalities to your doctor. Ideally, your doctor should do a testicular examination on a yearly basis.
- Blood Tests for Cholesterol Levels: High cholesterol can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Prostate Cancer: Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers that men get but if detected early much can be done. Your doctor will request a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test used to screen for prostate cancer, this should be done on a yearly basis from the age of 50. The doctor may also do Digital Rectal Examination which is a procedure where the size and shape of the prostate gland is physically examined through the rectum. It is uncomfortable but not painful.
- Colonoscopy: A camera on a flexible tube is inserted into the colon via the rectum. Cancer, if present, is directly seen.
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases
- Know your status!!!
- Everyone – including men, should be tested for HIV, gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, or other sexually transmitted diseases.
Just to Conclude
So, the month of November should be used by men, and also their significant loved ones, to reflect on their health status in general as a man, how to adapt their lifestyle to a healthier one, how to appropriately respond to any symptom that is not normal and how to get regular maintenance check-ups. Thus, tackling the ‘gender gap’ pro-actively. Your family doctor should be your trusted ally in the quest to “close the gap”.
Dr Martin de Villiers is the Medical Director at Medwell SA – The Home Health Care Specialists. For more information visit www.medwell.co.za