Important health checks for men over 50 (and what you can expect!)
8 minute read
Like cleaning the gutters and giving the dog his eye drops, a visit to the doctor can be a chore many men would rather avoid.
But, just like an annual car service can pick up small issues with your vehicle before it breaks down, regular health screenings and tests are the best way to detect serious health issues early on, start any treatment you need quickly, and continue living a healthy, happy life.
Like it or not, cancer is something many men will face as they age. Almost 40% of men will be diagnosed with cancer at some stage in their life.1 Sadly, advancing age is a risk factor for many cancers, which is why it’s important to stay vigilant to any changes in how we feel, and access the tests and screening programmes available.
So, for those who would rather unblock the drains than step inside a medical centre, what are the tests you need to make the effort to have, and why?
Bowel cancer screening
Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is more common in people over the age of 50,2 and slightly more common in men, so it’s important to be aware of the symptoms that could indicate early signs of the disease.
Changes in bowel movements, and what they produce, can indicate an issue. If you notice anything different, including colour, consistency, blood or mucous, the first step is to talk to your GP who may refer you to a specialist doctor or clinic for tests.
While the word test can make a lot of us want to run in the opposite direction, it’s worth knowing that if caught early enough, bowel cancer can often be managed, with one study showing that screening can reduce deaths by between 15% and 25%.3
Depending on your symptoms, the tests recommended will differ. Blood tests, stool samples, and scans might be the first step.
A colonoscopy is also a common test for bowel issues, and the most comprehensive test for colorectal cancer. While the thought of having a very small camera inserted to identify any suspicious tissues might strike fear into the heart of even the toughest of people, there’s nothing to be uncomfortable, embarrassed, or concerned about. The procedure generally takes about 30 minutes.
While prevention is better than cure, sometimes that’s not always possible. However, you can take a more active role in the early detection of conditions like bowel cancer. If you have risk factors – including a family history of bowel cancer – and want to have regular tests, you should speak with your GP.
Currently everyone aged 60 to 74 years who is registered with a GP and lives in England is automatically sent an NHS bowel cancer screening kit every 2 years. This programme is expanding so that everyone aged 50 to 59 years will be eligible for screening. This is happening gradually over 4 years and started in April 2021 with 56-year-olds. The programme has also started to include 58-year-olds, so you may get a test before you're 60.
Make sure your GP practice has your correct address, so you receive your kit without any delays.
Prostate health tests
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer, after lung, in men in the UK,4 meaning it’s important not to ignore potential symptoms. This becomes even more important as we age – almost 60% of prostate cancer diagnoses occur in men over the age of 65 years and risk factors start to climb from the age of 50.5
Symptoms of prostate cancer can include:
- Difficulty in starting urination
- Finding it hard to fully empty your bladder or feeling like your bladder hasn’t emptied properly
- Weak urine flow
- Leaking of urine, this might be just before or after you go to the toilet
- Needing to urinate more often, particularly during the night
- Sudden urges to urinate
Alongside knowing the signs and symptoms, it’s also important to know if you’re in a high-risk group – these are based on the five main factors below:
- Age: most cases are diagnosed in men over the age of 50
- A family history of prostate cancer
- Being overweight or obese
- Different hormone levels – research shows men with higher levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer
- Ethnicity – one in four black men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer compared to one in eight men of other ethnicities
Prostate cancer is more common amongst older men, especially those aged over 50. Heightened risks also come with genetics, so if there’s a family history of prostate cancer or breast cancer it’s worth flagging this with your GP and start having your PSA checked from the age of 45.
It’s important that you see your doctor if you’re concerned about your risks, or you’ve noticed any of these symptoms. As with most cancers, early detection is important for survival and long-term quality-of-life outcomes.
When it comes to testing for prostate cancer, you’ll be pleased to know the first step only involves rolling up your sleeve. A blood test called a PSA (prostate specific antigens) test will determine if there are elevated levels of a protein that can indicate prostate cancer. If there are, your doctor may recommend a digital rectal exam.
It’s not as bad as you think, but knowledge is power and it’s worth knowing what you’re walking into so there are no surprises.
Here’s what you can expect:
- Your doctor will ask you to undress from the waist down and get onto all fours on the examination table. They will usually leave the room or draw a curtain around the table while you do this, so don’t worry about being graceful.
- Your doctor will put on some rubber gloves and, using a small amount of lubricant, will insert one or two fingers into you-know-where to feel for any abnormalities in your prostate.
- The whole process will last 30 seconds to a minute, tops, and you get to talk about footy/cricket/weather the whole time to make up for the awkwardness.
Is it going to be fun? No.
Is it going to be a bit awkward? A little.
Could it literally add years or even save your life? Absolutely!
Depending on what your doctor finds they may conduct further tests, such as an MRI scan and a biopsy.
While we’re talking about the prostate, it’s also worth talking about enlarged prostates, as needing to urinate 17 times a night isn’t simply part of getting older. According to the NHS, “the cause of prostate enlargement is unknown, but it's believed to be linked to hormonal changes as a man gets older”. The good news is there are solutions that include lifestyle changes such as cutting down on alcohol and caffeine, medication such as alpha-blockers, and surgery. Talk to your doctor about the best option for you.
While some recommended health checks are going to be a walk in the park, others are more involved.
However, investing time and attention on your health is never going to be a bad move. Just like having a classic car in the garage, you want to keep your engine running well for a long time, so make the time for a tune-up today.
Find out more about our diagnostic clinics here.
- National cancer Institute. Global Cancer Statistics. Available at: www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics. Accessed on: 18/07/22.
- Siegel R, et al. Cancer J Clin 2020; 70(3):145-164.
- Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. About the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Available at: www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/national-bowel-cancer-screening-program/about-the-national-bowel-cancer-screening-program#bowel-screening-can-save-lives. Accessed on: 18/07/22.
- Prostate Cancer UK: prostatecanceruk.org/prostate-information/about-prostate-cancer
- Prostate Cancer UK. Am I at risk of prostate cancer? Available at: prostatecanceruk.org/prostate-information/are-you-at-risk. Accessed on: 18/07/22.