Two keys to good men’s health are prevention and detection

[5 min read] 

In this article: 

  • Providence Chief Medical Officer Dan Getz, D.O., stresses the importance of routine visits with a doctor for men to stay healthy and detect issues early.

  • The most important part of cancer screenings is early detection. Learn what screenings you need and when you need them.

  • Learn more about health concerns specific to men as they age, including vision changes, liver health, early signs of diabetes and more.

Prevention and detection: Two keys to good health for men

As we age, our bodies change in a variety of ways. Many of these changes are normal, but some changes are signs of chronic illness or even cancer. Providence Chief Medical Officer Dan Getz, D.O., breaks down these changes for us. He emphasizes that the most important aspect of cancer care is early detection and treatment. That’s why, despite advances in medicine, early cancer screenings are still the best way to have a good outcome.

“It takes a team approach, engaging with our patients, understanding what drives them,” says Dr. Getz. “The vast majority of the problems are preventable if you have a good relationship with a primary care provider.”

He explains the team approach by the experts at Providence, and how building human connections between adult men and their providers is key to protecting men’s good health. Check out this question-and-answer session with Dr. Getz about common men’s health issues.

Q: You describe the liver as the quarterback of whole-body health. How important is our liver?

A: The liver is probably my favorite organ in the body and is involved in lots of different functions. It makes clotting factors in your body; it makes most of your body’s proteins; it produces bile that gets stored in the gallbladder.

A lot of causes of liver disease have to do with things like excessive weight gain or excessive consumption of alcohol, or even using illicit substances. These are very sensitive conversations that men can have with their provider at Providence without judgment. We want to collaborate with you — partner with you as a person — to find a strategy to avoid some of the late-stage complications of liver disease or even reverse the causes of liver disease.

If we detect liver disease, we’re going to recommend certain lifestyle interventions, making sure that you’re eating a well-balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, maybe avoiding certain medications and quitting alcohol use. These are all important.

The neat thing about the liver is that it can regenerate. So if we can avoid progression toward cirrhosis or scarring of the liver, the liver has great ability to restore itself to normal function. It’s really important to discuss with your primary care provider a strategy for good liver health.

Q: How can we protect our vision as we age?

A: Eye vision is such a critical function involved in everything we do. There are few things in a patient, especially men, that are more concerning than noticing changes in vision. If you’re noticing changes, we want to catch them early and treat the problem.

Regularly scheduled appointments with an optometrist can help prevent certain conditions like glaucoma, macular degeneration or cataracts. If you’re out in the sun, it’s important that you wear some form of eye protection, whether it’s sunglasses or a hat with a brim. This can help prevent sun damage, which includes cataract formation or, in certain cases, development of cancer in the back of the eye caused by sun exposure.

Using protective eyewear is critical if you’re going to be performing any activity where you could have something fly into your eye. If you’re spending a lot of time on screens, take breaks and allow your vision to refocus.

Q: Why does my primary care doctor want to see me every year?

A: Providence provides world-class health through human connection. We talk to patients to understand: What are your goals? What frightens you? What motivates you? Where do you want to be in six months and six years? Then that physician or advanced practice clinician can work together with you to obtain those goals.

One of the big benefits of having a primary care provider and a close relationship with them is that when you come in describing certain symptoms, we’re thinking of other conditions that might explain that symptom — something as simple as blurry vision could indicate a new onset of diabetes.

Q: My doctor mentioned that I’m at increased risk for diabetes. What does that mean?

A: There are two types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes where you require insulin because your pancreas can no longer make it, and type 2 diabetes, which has to do with your body’s insulin resistance. Type 2 is tied closely to metabolic abnormalities, particularly weight gain.

If your doctor notices you’re gaining weight at an accelerated pace or your blood pressure is increasing, you’re at higher risk for developing diabetes. Also, increased cholesterol level is a signal that your body may be struggling to metabolize carbohydrates, which is a hallmark of diabetes. With type 2 diabetes, you should avoid alcohol use.

A healthy weight is the most important step in preventing diabetes. Your diet should be rich in good omega fats, lean meats, balanced carbohydrates, and whole grains. Portion control is also important. We steer patients toward non-processed foods. Foods that are highly processed metabolize quickly and can cause a spike in insulin.

Exercise is one of the pillars of managing diabetes. When we exercise our muscles, we’re not just burning calories during exercise, but after exercising, your muscles continue to burn calories. This really increases the metabolic rate of patients. Diabetes is a problem with energy in and energy out. If we can balance the energy, we expend with the energy we take in — calories in what we’re eating — that’s going to lead to excellent diabetes management.

Q: How important are screenings to detect cancer?

A: The most important part of cancer screenings is early detection. We know definitively that the earlier we can catch cancer, regardless of the type of cancer, the more likely we are to cure that cancer or prevent a lot of the bad outcomes.

There are few things more terrifying for a patient, as well as the patient’s family members, than a diagnosis of cancer. So we want to really understand their needs to help guide that patient and their family in the right direction to get well.

Part of screening isn’t just having a test. It’s sitting down and engaging with your physician, and we’re going to be probing for certain signs or symptoms. What are you experiencing? Is there a change in weight? Are you not sleeping well? It’s a relationship between the provider and the patient to try and understand certain symptoms that could represent cancer.

Q: What health screenings do men need as we age?

A: Testicular cancer is one of the most common cancers in young men. We want to encourage men — starting in mid-adolescence — to do regular testicular exams at least once a month. If there are any abnormalities, including lumps or bumps that weren't there before or any new tenderness, we want to have that patient examined by a primary care physician to determine if we need additional testing.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men starting at age 50. We usually start screening for prostate cancer in the 40s, maybe earlier if there's a family history.

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in men. The key to detecting colon cancer is screening, usually beginning at age 45 or sooner if you have a family history.

Low dose CT scans can detect lung cancer in its very early stages. Patients need a lung cancer screening if they are between ages 55 and 80 with a significant or long-standing history of tobacco use.

Health screenings are equally as important for women. Find out what screenings the ladies in your life need and encourage them to schedule appointments as well.

Q: How prevalent is skin cancer and breast cancer in men?

A: Skin cancer in men is the No. 1 cause of cancer up until age 50, so skin cancer screening is very important. See a doctor for regular skin exams at least once a year starting in your 20s. If you have fair skin, if you have a family history of skin cancer, or if you spend a lot of time in the sun, it’s really important that we take a look at you.

Men can develop breast cancer too. If you notice abnormalities in the breast tissue or nipple, it’s very important to discuss it right away with your health care provider.

Contributing caregiver

Daniel Getz, D.O., is chief medical officer of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Providence Holy Family Hospital.

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Related resources

We’re winning the fight against prostate cancer

A recent study found rising cancer rates among younger adults. What to know.

Why you should take a closer look at your eyes as you age

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Men's Health Team is dedicated to helping men reach and maintain their optimal health by providing relevant and helpful clinically based advice.

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