Written by Nancy Fitzgerald

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So said Ben Franklin, who clearly knew a good deal when he saw one.

For men approaching the half-century mark, keeping on top of health tests is worth a bundle. They have the ability to detect problems early so that preventive measures can be taken and help you stay strong for years to come. [1]

“With people living into their late 80s and 90s—and even into the century mark—staying healthy makes it much more likely that these will be years of quality, rather than years of disability,” says Dr. Kathryn Boling, M.D., a family medicine specialist with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. [2,3]

Your first step, however, is to talk to your doctor to decide exactly which tests are right for you. Your next step: Test your health regularly (either from the doctor’s office or from the comfort of your own home to ensure you understand which vital screenings to do.

“The most important part of staying healthy is getting a regular checkup with your health care provider,” says John Buchanan, M.D., a family physician with the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s clinic in Nashua, New Hampshire. “Everyone’s situation is different, and recommendations change from time to time, but the thing that stays the same is your relationship with your doctor. If you don’t have a regular provider, find out who your friends like and make an appointment for a physical.” [4,5]

Here are 10 tests your doctor might recommend.


Critical Test #1: Cholesterol


Why? A little cholesterol (a type of fat found in your blood) is good—it helps your brain and other organs do their jobs. Too much cholesterol, however, clogs your arteries and can lead to a heart attack or stroke. [6]

“Checking cholesterol levels is one of the best ways to know your risk of heart disease,” explains Dr. Buchanan. [4]

When? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that most healthy adults should get their cholesterol checked every four to six years. But those who have heart disease or diabetes—or a family history of high cholesterol—should have the test more often. Ask your doctor what’s right for you. [4,7]

The screening: Your cholesterol can be checked with an at-home test or at your doctor’s office. With LetsGetChecked tests, you provide a home sample collection with physician-approved results in two to five days. If your levels are high, your doctor may prescribe medications, such as statins, that can help lower cholesterol. [4,8]

Take a cholesterol test at home now.


Critical Test #2: Colorectal Cancer


Why? Colorectal cancer (or bowel cancer)—the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States—usually starts with abnormal growths called polyps in your colon or rectum, before you notice a thing. But screenings can detect cancer early, while it’s still easy to treat. About 90 percent of new cases happen in those who are 50 or older, so getting a screening past the half-century mark is critical. [10]

When? The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends starting colorectal cancer screenings at age 45. However, you should get screened sooner if a close relative has had colorectal cancer, or if you have an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Then follow up with tests at regular intervals until you’re 75. [11]

The screening: You’ve got several choices, including an at-home test (which is convenient, non-invasive, and comes with medical support to guide you), a colonoscopy, or a flexible sigmoidoscopy. How frequently should you be tested? That depends on what kind of screening it is and your individual risk factors. [10,12]

Here are the suggested timelines, according to experts: [10]

  • At-home tests: every year
  • Colonoscopy: every 10 years
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: every five years

“If you don’t have a close relative with colon cancer, the at-home test is equally as effective as a colonoscopy,” explains Dr. Gary Kerkvliet, M.D., an internist with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. [13] Talk to your doctor about which screening is right for you. [10]

Take a colorectal cancer screening test now.


Critical Test #3: Hepatitis C


Why? Hepatitis C (HCV) is a virus that can cause a serious liver infection. Fortunately, it’s treatable. But of the 3.5 million Americans living with a chronic HCV infection, half haven’t been tested. [16]

When? Now. Baby boomers and Gen Xers are five times more likely than other groups to have HCV. [17] But, the numbers are increasing in younger people. [18] That’s why the CDC recently changed its recommendation and now recommend to all adults over the age of 18 at least once in their lives to be screened. [18] Catching HCV early can lead to effective, lifesaving treatment. [16,17]

The screening: According the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, screening for hepatitis C begins with a blood test. This test checks for disease-fighting proteins (antibodies) in your blood. If you’re found to have antibodies, further follow up testing with a healthcare provider will be required. [18] If you are diagnosed with hepatitis C, there are many effective treatment options. [19,20]

Take a hepatitis C test from home now.


Critical Test #4: Diabetes


Why? According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 34 million Americans—a quarter of them older adults—have Type 2 diabetes. [23] If it’s not caught and treated, this condition can damage blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves, and it can even lead to heart disease or a stroke. [4,24] In 2017, it was the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States. [23]

When? Age is one of the biggest risk factors for diabetes, [25] so it’s important that adults aged 40 to 70 who are overweight or obese are screened for abnormal blood glucose at their annual physical exam. If the results are normal, another test is recommended after three years. [26]

The screening: The common screening for diabetes, the A1C test, measures your average blood sugar levels for the past few months. If your levels are greater than 6.5 percent, you may have diabetes. If levels are between 5.7 and 6.4 percent, you may have prediabetes, meaning that you are at increased risk for developing diabetes. [26; 27] Although possible to reverse at this stage, “this is something to take very seriously,” says Dr. Buchanan. “Your doctor will treat it in a variety of ways—through medication, exercise, and lifestyle changes.” [4]

Take a diabetes test now.


Critical Test #5: Hormone Health


Why? According to a Harvard study, nearly a quarter of men between the ages of 60 and 69 and almost half of those ages 70 to 79 experience moderate or severe sexual problems, including erectile dysfunction. [31] Although chronic illnesses and the medications that treat them often play a part, decreasing hormone levels can also be a major factor. [4,31]

When? This depends on a number of factors, including what test you’re taking and your age. (See below for more information.)

The screenings:

  • Low Testosterone: Starting at about age 40, levels of the male hormone testosterone decline by about 1 percent a year. [31] “If guys in their 50s complain of fatigue, weight gain, and decreased sexual desire, it may be worth checking testosterone levels,” says Dr. Buchanan. “It’s important to be really careful about this though—supplementing with testosterone can cause heart problems or even lead to aggression.” [4,32]

Take a hormone test from home now.

  • Hypothyroidism: Your thyroid is an organ in the front of your neck that produces hormones. [33] If it doesn’t make enough of them, you could end up feeling depressed or sluggish. Dr. Buchanan notes that, while he doesn’t typically screen men right away for hypothyroidism, if a patient has been losing weight or feels run down, he may run the test. [4,34]

Take a thyroid test from home now.


Critical Test #6: Prostate Cancer


Why? This condition may happen when male hormones—especially testosterone—stimulate the growth of cancer cells in the prostate. [34] But research suggests that as many as 50 percent of men diagnosed with prostate cancer may be treated for a problem that won’t actually affect their health during their lifetime—and the treatments may cause problems like sexual dysfunction so it is important to discuss the most suitable tests with your doctor. [35]

When? It’s common for doctors to test for prostate cancer in men between ages 55 and 69. [35]

The screening: The gold standard for evaluating prostate health is a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says that this screening may be more important for African Americans or those with a family history of prostate cancer. [35] Talk to your doctor about whether this test is right for you.

Take a PSA test from home now.


Critical Test #7: High Blood Pressure


Why? Your blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. When the pressure is too high—the medical term is hypertension—your heart has to pump harder. That increases your risk of a heart attack, stroke, or kidney or heart failure. [4,14]

When? At least annually, starting at age 40—more often if your blood pressure is high. [4,14]

The screening: High blood pressure can be checked with a quick, simple arm monitor. Treatment with medications and lifestyle changes can prevent dangerous or even deadly health problems. If your blood pressure is high, you’ll be asked to come back for periodic rechecks. [4,14]


Critical Test #8: Obesity


Why? More than one-third of Americans are obese, a condition that’s connected to heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and even early death. [15]

When? Your doctor will weigh you and measure your height at your annual visit. If your body mass index (BMI) 25 or higher (over 25 being considered overweight and over 30 obese), you may be asked to come back for rechecks. It’s likely that your doctor will recommend weight loss and lifestyle changes, including exercise. [15]

The screening: Your doctor will have you hop on the scale, check your weight, and calculate your (BMI). [15] (Try this handy calculator to see where you land.)


Critical Test #9: Lung Cancer


Why? Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in America—but the most common type, non-small cell lung cancer, can often be cured if it’s found early. The two biggest risk factors for lung cancer: age and smoking history. [4,28,29]

When? The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends an annual screening for adults 55 to 80 who have a 30-pack-year smoking history. So if you’ve smoked a pack a day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years—or if you quit smoking less than 15 years ago—ask your doctor about this test at your annual checkup. [4,30]

The screening: “Today we’re able to catch early lung cancers in smokers with a low-dose computed tomography (CT) scan,” explains Dr. Buchanan. The condition may be treated with surgery. [4,30]


Critical Test #10: Abdominal Aortic Aneurism


Why? Your aorta is a large vessel that carries blood from your heart down to your abdomen. If the walls of your aorta are weak, they may swell up like a balloon, forming an aneurism that grows slowly and quietly. If it bursts, it can cause bleeding that may lead to death—and emergency surgery to repair it is risky. [21]

When? Men between the ages of 65 and 75, and men who have smoked at least 100 cigarettes during their lifetime, are at the highest risk of having an abdominal aortic aneurism. If you fit either of those descriptions, talk to your doctor about this test. [22]

The screening: If you’ve ever smoked, this one-time, noninvasive ultrasound test may be a real lifesaver. “It’s an effective way to catch something that could kill you without warning,” says Kerkvliet. “Be sure to get it when you turn 65.” [12]


References


  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine
    Screening Tests for Common Diseases
    https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/screening-tests-for-common-diseases#:~:text=A screening test is done,to treat it most effectively.

  2. Kathryn Boling M.D.
    Mercy Medical Center

  3. Mercy Medical Center
    Kathryn A. Boling, M.D.
    https://mdmercy.com/centers-of-excellence/additional-centers/primary-care-physicians/find-a-primary-care-doctor/primary-care-doctors/kathryn-boling-md

  4. John Buchanan
    Dartmouth-Hitchcock Nashua

  5. Dartmouth-Hitchcock
    John T. "Terry" Buchanan, MD
    https://www.dartmouth-hitchcock.org/findaprovider/provider/3172/John-T-"Terry"-Buchanan

  6. American Heart Association
    Cholesterol 101: An introduction
    https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/about-cholesterol

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Getting Your Cholesterol Checked
    https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/cholesterol_screening.htm

  8. American Heart Association
    Cholesterol Medications
    https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/prevention-and-treatment-of-high-cholesterol-hyperlipidemia/cholesterol-medications

  9. American Cancer Society
    Key Statistics for Colorectal Cancer
    https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/about/key-statistics.html

  10. American Cancer Society
    Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figures 2020-2022
    https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/colorectal-cancer-facts-and-figures/colorectal-cancer-facts-and-figures-2020-2022.pdf

  11. Jill Jin, MD, MPH
    Screening for Colorectal Cancer
    JAMA 2016;315(23):2635

  12. Gary Kerkvliet, M.D
    Mercy Medical Center

  13. Mercy Medical Center
    Dr. Gary Kerkvliet
    https://mdmercy.com/centers-of-excellence/additional-centers/primary-care-physicians/find-a-primary-care-doctor/primary-care-doctors/gary-kerkvliet-md

  14. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
    Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
    MyHealthfinder
    Get Your Blood Pressure Checked
    https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/doctor-visits/screening-tests/get-your-blood-pressure-checked

  15. U.S. National Library of Medicine
    Medline Plus
    Obesity Screening
    https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/obesity-screening/#:~:text=An obesity screening may use,lead to serious health problems.

  16. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Birth Cohort Screening (1945–1965) and Treatment for Hepatitis C Virus Infection
    Prevention Case Study 4
    https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/highimpactprevention/birth-cohort-screening.html

  17. Harvard Medical School
    Harvard Health Publishing
    Baby boomers and hepatitis C: What’s the connection?
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/baby-boomers-and-hepatitis-c-whats-the-connection-2019050116532

  18. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Dramatic increases in hepatitis C
    CDC now recommends hepatitis C testing for all adults
    https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/vitalsigns/index.html

  19. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
    Hepatitis C Virus Infection in Adolescents and Adults: Screening
    https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/recommendation/hepatitis-c-screening

  20. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Hepatitis C Testing
    What to Expect When Getting Tested
    https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/pdfs/hepcgettingtested.pdf

  21. U.S. National Library of Medicine
    Medline Plus
    Abdominal aortic aneurysm
    https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000162.htm

  22. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
    Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: Screening
    https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/recommendation/abdominal-aortic-aneurysm-screening

  23. American Diabetes Association
    Statistics About Diabetes
    Overall numbers
    https://www.diabetes.org/resources/statistics/statistics-about-diabetes

  24. American Diabetes Association
    Complications
    https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/complications

  25. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
    National Institutes of Health
    National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
    Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes
    https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/risk-factors-type-2-diabetes

  26. U.S. National Library of Medicine
    National Center for Biotechnology Information
    Diabetes Mellitus Screening
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554615/

  27. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Diabetes Tests
    https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/getting-tested.html

  28. American Cancer Society
    Lung Cancer Statistics
    https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/about/key-statistics.html

  29. American Cancer Society
    Can Lung Cancer Be Found Early
    https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/detection.html

  30. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
    Lung Cancer: Screening
    https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/recommendation/lung-cancer-screening

  31. Harvard Medical School
    Harvard Health Publishing
    Life after 50: A Harvard study of male sexuality
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Life_after_50_A_Harvard_study_of_male_sexuality

  32. Harvard Medical School
    Harvard Health Publishing
    Testosterone, aging, and the mind
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/testosterone_aging_and_the_mind

  33. U.S. National Library of Medicine
    Medline Plus
    Hypothyroidism
    https://medlineplus.gov/hypothyroidism.html

  34. Harvard Medical School
    Harvard Health Publishing
    Hormone therapy for prostate cancer
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/hormone-therapy-for-prostate-cancer

  35. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
    Prostate Cancer Screening Recommendation
    Frequently Asked Questions
    https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Home/GetFileByID/3786