Dr. Brad Kelly

They probably fall at the bottom of your to-do list. But, in recognition of Men’s Health Month, let’s take a look at those all-important health screenings you’ve been putting off that could serve to warn you of medical problems to come.

First of all, starting at age 18, men should have a physical exam annually to assess their health risks, update vaccines and ensure they’re on a healthy track. During these annual check-ups, your doctor may suggest changes to your diet, exercise routine or lifestyle to keep you going strong.

At minimum you should have the following screenings:

• Blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the big risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke – two of the leading causes of death in the United States. Have it checked every year.

• Cholesterol. High blood cholesterol also is a major risk factor for heart disease. Starting at age 35, you should have a lipid profile every five years (and earlier if you have a family history or other risk factors for heart disease).

• Blood sugar. Glucose tests are done to check for diabetes. Your blood sugar should be tested every two years starting at age 35. If you’re overweight, are over 45 or have prediabetes, it should be tested more often.

Aging brings more risks. At age 45, men should also have their first colonoscopy, considered the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening.

A colonoscopy can detect inflamed tissue, ulcers and abnormal growths called polyps, which can often be removed during the procedure. If the screening turns up clear and there is no family history of colorectal cancer, you don’t need to be tested again for 10 years.

The risk of prostate cancer also increases with age. Although only 1 in 10,000 men younger than 40 is diagnosed with prostate cancer, the rate shoots up significantly as you age. And it’s the most common non-skin cancer among American men, affecting 1 in 7.

The American Cancer Society recommends that men discuss the risks and benefits of prostate screening with their doctor before deciding whether to be tested. Guidelines differ on when you should start screening, but the general recommendation is age 50 for men with an average risk of prostate cancer.

Depending on your health history and lifestyle, your doctor might recommend screenings for infectious diseases, particularly sexually transmitted diseases, which are on the rise in all age groups

In addition, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recently recommended that primary care physicians screen all adults for depression, the most common mental health condition in patients seen in primary care.

So, man up and get those screenings. By identifying issues early, you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing serious diseases that could take years off your life.

Simply put, by getting your annual wellness exam you can live longer and better.

Brad Kelly, D.O., is a board-certified family medicine physician at Beaufort Memorial May River Primary Care in Bluffton.