It’s November, and that means “Movember,” a time to increase our awareness of men’s health issues, grow a mustache, and change the face of men’s health.

Okay, the connection doesn’t make total sense, but two things are certain. First, sporting a lone ’stache can be cool or creepy, but it’s usually a little of both. Second, men’s health issues ought to get some extra attention at least once a year.

What are the biggest issues affecting men’s health? How can men, and the people who care for them, live healthier lives? Most healthy habits and preventive medical care apply to both men and women. Everyone benefits from avoiding or quitting tobacco and reducing stress. We should all get daily physical activity and try to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Adults should get screened for colon cancer starting at age 50. Men and women alike should use sun protection, practice safe sex, drink alcohol only in moderation, and see their primary care provider for a yearly checkup.

But what about men’s health specifically? One big issue is prostate cancer. The prostate is a gland that lies low in the pelvis and plays a part in men’s reproductive function. Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death among men. There is a blood test called prostate specific antigen (PSA) which can find prostate cancer early, but it’s not a perfect test and false positives do occur.

Most prostate cancers begin late in life and grow slowly, so most men end up dying of something else first, but some grow quickly, so catching them early can allow life-saving treatment. However, these treatments can have harsh side effects including sexual problems and bladder control issues. So, whether to screen for prostate cancer with a PSA test is a complicated question. Men between the ages of 55 and 69 should discuss the benefits and drawbacks of PSA screening with their health care provider to decide which way to go.

Testicular cancer is another men’s issue. Although testicular cancer is fairly rare overall, it’s the most common cancer in young men ages 15 to 35. The cancer is usually found after a man notices a lump on his testicle or scrotum. But, as with prostate cancer, screening can lead to invasive tests and treatments. Fortunately, most testicular cancers can be treated quite effectively, even if they are not discovered early. That’s one reason the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force does not recommend regular testicular screening exams by medical providers or self-exams. But if you notice a lump on your testicle, it’s best to see a medical provider to get it checked out.

Suicide is another important men’s health issue. It’s the number-one cause of injury-related death in the U.S., higher than car accidents. Males are four times as likely as females to complete suicide, and for the last 40 years, Montana has been one of the top five states with the highest suicide rate in the nation. If you are worried someone you know is thinking about suicide, give them your attention and offer support. Try to get them help from a therapist, spiritual leader, the police, or from a hospital. If you are thinking about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) or 911. Depression is treatable, and there is always hope.

Stay safe and healthy, men! Happy Movember!

Dr. Andy Owenreay, a resident physician in the Montana Family Medicine Residency at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 247-3306.

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