Men’s vs. women’s health: What you can do now that you’ll thank yourself for later
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With the busy lives many of us lead, our health often takes a back burner until pain or other symptoms force us into the doctor’s office, dreading what we think we might hear.
The physicians at Edinger Medical Group want you to know there’s a better way. Taking simple steps to stay ahead of the game in terms of our health can yield benefits down the road. And it all starts with the annual physical.
“It’s important to check in and maintain that relationship with a provider that you trust,” says Janice Rivelle, MD, an internal medicine physician at Edinger, which has offices in Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley. “As a provider, we see things over time, we get to know you well, and we can tell if something is unusual for you. And if you have a trusting relationship with your doctor, it’s easier to tell them things you might not feel comfortable telling a doctor who doesn’t know you.”
Having a relationship with a physician builds continuity of care, which is important as we age. Your physician can keep track of crucial screenings you should get at different stages of your life. Here, we break down the top three most important screenings for men and women:
Top 3 screenings for men
Prostate screening: This should be high on the list of men’s concerns, says Victor Lin, MD, an internal medicine physician with Edinger Medical Group. It’s a common cancer in older men, but it’s curable when detected and treated early. Lin says unless there are certain risk factors present, including a family history of prostate cancer or many other cancers, he recommends waiting until age 55 to be screened, according to guidelines from the American Urological Association.
A blood test called prostate-specific antigen can be a valuable screen to monitor levels over time, Dr. Lin says. Still, there is no hard-and-fast rule about what age or whether men should even get this test. “It’s more of a nuanced discussion patients should have with their physician,” he says.
Colorectal cancer screening: This is another common cancer, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), among other agencies, recently lowered the recommended age of first screening to 45. Dr. Lin says patients should talk to their physician about their risk of getting this type of cancer. He notes there are alternative tests to the traditional colonoscopy that can be done from home. For men and women at average risk, a colonoscopy should be done every 10 years, he says. Because they are less invasive, home tests can — and should — be done yearly.
Cholesterol and cardiovascular health: Heart disease can be a concern, especially given the American diet that often is high in saturated fats, Dr. Lin says. Men should have their cholesterol checked as early as 18, he adds, especially if high cholesterol runs in the family.
“I tell most patients the same thing: Eat a diet that’s low in saturated fats, meaning reduce consumption of beef, pork, lamb and eggs,” and aim for a plant-based diet. He recommends reducing sodium intake to no more than 2-3 grams per day and avoiding processed foods, which tend to be high in sodium.
Regular exercise can play a big part in reducing risks for cardiovascular disease, he adds. “I tell people to try to get 30 minutes of exercise, such as brisk walking, five days a week. You don’t have to run a marathon to stay healthy.”
Top 3 screenings for women
Mammogram: Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the world, according to the World Health Organization. A mammogram is the best way to screen for cancer, and the USPSTF recommends women at average risk (without a family history of breast cancer) begin screening at age 50, Dr. Rivelle says. She notes that there differing thoughts regarding when and how often to screen; the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports starting screenings at age 40.
“It’s something a woman should have a conversation with her provider about what age to start, depending on her personal risk profile, and if she wants to do it annually or every two years,” she says. “In my practice, I recommend annual mammograms for my patients because I think it has more benefits than harm.”
Cervical cancer screenings: Women should have their first cervical cytology screen ((known as a Pap smear) around age 21, Dr. Rivelle says, and should have one every three years up to age 29. Women between 30 and 65 can push that to every five years as long as they are getting HPV (human papillomavirus) co-testing along with the Pap smear.
“We know that HPV is the biggest risk factor for cervical cancer, and we know that women who are HPV negative drop into a lower risk pool,” she says. “That’s why we can comfortably space out Pap smears to every five years.”
Osteoporosis: Bone density becomes important to screen for after a woman goes through menopause. The reason? When we’re younger, estrogen protects our bones, but after age 50, we begin to lose estrogen and bone density begins to decline. Smoking and drinking alcohol can also affect bone density.
Dr. Rivelle recommends women get their first bone density scan, known as DEXA, in their early 60s — sooner if they are at high risk. “The biggest risk factor is age,” Dr. Rivelle says. “The older you are, the more likely you are to have bone density issues, and the more likely you’ll have bone fractures.”
Shared health concerns
Melanoma: Skin cancer is something that both men and women should start thinking about in their 20s and 30s, Dr. Rivelle says. She recommends applying sunscreen every day, applying an SPF 15 moisturizer throughout the day, and wearing sunglasses while driving.
“It can never be too early to protect your skin from sun damage,” she says.
Lung cancer: Screening should be done for people at high risk based on their smoking history, Dr. Rivelle says, meaning those who have smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for 20 years ((i.e., the patient could have smoked half a pack a day for 40 years or two packs a day for 10 years to qualify for screening) and are either smoking currently or quit within the past 15 years. Those not at high risk do not need to be screened.
Mental health: Mental illness should be treated like any other illness, Dr. Lin says. “Anxiety, depression and other types of mental illness should not be stigmatized, and there are things you can do to prevent it and treat it.” He encourages patients to seek help from family or friends and ask their physician for resources.
“I encourage patients to reach out for help at the first signs of trouble,” Dr. Rivelle adds. “Don’t tough it out.”
One of the common myths is that vitamins and supplements are good for you. Not necessarily true, the physicians say.
“Generally, I tell patients supplements don’t help,” Dr. Lin says. “If they eat a balanced, omnivore diet (plant and animal) they are getting all the macronutrients, fats, proteins, carbohydrates and micros they need.”
Dr. Rivelle agrees, noting every patient’s situation is different. “There are instances where we might recommend different combinations of vitamin supplementation, but it should be on a case-by-case basis. There is no one-size-fits-all recommendation,” she says.
For those eating a well-balanced diet, most multivitamin supplements are unnecessary, and some herbal preparations can potentially be toxic in high doses or interact with a patient’s current prescription medications, Dr. Rivelle says.
“Just because it’s advertised as natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you,” she adds. “It’s best to ask your provider before adding potentially wasteful vitamins to your daily regimen, or herbal remedies that could be harmful.”
For more information about Edinger Medical Group or to schedule an appointment, call 714-965-2500 or visit edingermedicalgroup.com.