Q: My father recently died of cancer. In talking to his doctors, I found out that if my father would have had regular checkups, his death could have been prevented. I’m 42, and after that conversation with his doctors, it hit me that it’s probably been 20 years since I had a checkup myself. Am I the only guy out there who isn’t taking care of his health as well as he should?
A: When it comes to healthcare, most men (myself included) are idiots. We don’t get regular checkups, don’t do much in the way of preventative care, we ignore symptoms, and we don’t get medical attention until the pain is unbearable (or, more likely, until a woman in our life insists). Overall, men are 66 percent less likely to visit a doctor than women, and we make only about one fourth the number of physician visits for diagnosis, screening, or test results. Twenty-five percent of us say we’d wait as long as possible before seeking help for pain or illness, according to a recent study by the Commonwealth Fund. Nearly 40 percent would hold off for at least a few days, and 17 percent would wait a week. When (if) we finally do seek medical attention, we frequently sabotage our doctors’ effectiveness by canceling follow-up appointments and not finishing prescriptions.
The results of all this negligence are startling: For every 100 women who die between 45 and 64, 170 men die. Men are twice as likely to die from heart or liver disease, 18 percent more likely to die of a stroke, and 45 percent more likely to die of cancer. And the situation is getting worse. In 1940, women outlived men by an average of 4.4 years. Today, that difference is nearly 7 years.
And once you get to the doctor, will he actually save you? Not necessarily. Almost 70 percent of men over 40 who visit the doctor aren’t even asked whether they have a family history of prostate cancer, despite the fact that prostate cancer kills about as many men every year as breast cancer kills women. In the past year, forty percent of men over 50 who should be getting a prostate exam every single year weren’t even screened by their doctors, 60 percent weren’t screened for colon cancer, and half had neither a physical nor a blood cholesterol test.
Going to the doctor also won’t do much about the fact that four times as many men commit suicide as women, that the victims of violent crime are 75 percent male, that 98 percent of the people who work in the most dangerous jobs in this country are men, and that 94 percent of people who die in the workplace are men. And going to the doctor won’t help men discuss private medical issues such as sexual dysfunction, which is often a symptom of a far more serious condition such as physical problem–clogged arteries, high blood pressure, or diabetes.
Bottom line? Go to the doctor. You should be having a complete physical at least every two years, and should be screened for prostate and colon cancers every year.