HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - As you’ve probably noticed, three of your favorite faces on WAFF 48 are a little more fuzzy than usual.
Trent Butler, Brandon Spinner and Eric Burke are all taking part in “No Shave November” again. The goal is to raise awareness for men’s health issues.
WAFF 48 has also put a focus on men’s health this month, featuring several stories detailing the unique medical challenges men face. We recently invited Dr. Tim Howard, a general practitioner with an office in Huntsville, to talk about some of these issues. Here are four things he said you need to know:
Testicular cancer self exams are crucial - If you know what you’re doing
One of the diseases that was first featured as part of the "No Shave November" campaign was Testicular Cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, one in 250 men will develop this at some point in life. It often targets younger men, with the average patient being 33 years old when they're diagnosed.
Dr. Howard says testicular cancer can be treated relatively easily and successfully if it’s caught early enough. The key, he says, is regular exams. Dr. Howard says this is an easy exam for men to do themselves, but he warns that men should see a doctor before they begin to make sure they’re doing things properly. “We try to do that first exam just like we teach women with a self breast exam” Dr. Howard said. “You want to gentle move the testicle through the finger pad. It should feel spongy. You don’t want to feel anything hard like a rock”.
Dr. Howard says you should still allow a doctor to do an exam once a year as part of a regular check up, and do your self exams at least one per month.
PSA tests are lifesavers
Earlier this week, we profiled Robert Davis, a local veteran and prostate cancer survivor. He told us that he believes prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, tests saved his life.
Dr. Howard enthusiastically agrees. He says that 50 is typically the best age to begin prostate cancer screenings, but there are exceptions. “If you have a history, or if you’re African-American, age 40.” African-Americans have a significantly higher rate of prostate cancer than white Americans. That’s something Dr. Howard says he’s personally seen. “We’ve picked up several cases of prostate cancer for young, asymptomatic African-American men who were within their 40s.”
20 is the new 30 - and that’s not a good thing
Traditionally, doctors have said that men should be getting regular checkups and physicals starting in their 30's. The thinking has always been that men in their teens and twenties were generally healthy, strong, active and fit. However, society has changed, and doctors are now reacting.
Boys who were part of the childhood obesity epidemic that took root in the late 1990s and early 2000s are now young men, and doctors say they need more regular interaction with health care providers to correct the course of their adult lives. “Typically, we used to say age 30 for the first full, comprehensive exam, but now because we’re seeing so much high cholesterol and coronary artery disease at an early age” Dr. Howard said. “A lot of practitioners will say ‘Let’s get a good comprehensive screen by 20.’”. Dr. Howard adds diabetes among young men also seems to be rising. He says the first comprehensive exam should include a look at blood sugar, liver function and a blood count that can detect things like anemia, infections and even Leukemia.
Mental health treatment is evolving
Mental health is a hard thing for anyone to talk about, and Dr. Howard says this may be especially true for men. "Typically, with mental health, unless (a patient) comes in and tells you they're depressed or they're thinking about hurting themselves, it flies under the radar." Dr. Howard said often, the tips come from family members. He says patients often express concern about how a mental health diagnosis will impact their lives. "Some jobs will be - I wouldn't say 'discriminatory', but - if you were to say something about your mental health or your medications you may take it could preclude you from certain security clearances and those kinds of things."
Dr. Howard says that treatment options for mental health have changed over the past decades, and there’s a bigger focus on discretion and privacy. “At a primary care level, we treat a lot of depression and there are some very effective medications, so the need for referral is much less than it used to be.” Dr. Howard says many mental health issues that previously needed a specialist can now be handled by your primary care doctor."
Pushing a man to see a doctor can be counterproductive
Dr. Howard also addressed how family members should handle a loved one who won’t seek help on their own. The American Heart Association has a list of counterarguments to the ten most frequent excuses for skipping doctor visits, but Dr. Howard says you need to be careful with how you approach the problem. “I’ve told patients many times - spouses of men - ‘You’re their spouse, not their mother.’” Howard told us. “If you come at it like a parent, they’ll come at you like a rebellious teenager. It’s not helpful, so at some point, the man has to own that there’s an issue there.”
Bonus - Dr. Howard’s Six Symptoms You Should Never Ignore:
Unexplained weight loss
Blood in urine
Blood in stool
Blood in vomit
Unexplained abdominal pain
We also asked Dr. Howard for his take on at-home colon cancer screening kits. Here’s his take: