Most people know that men tend to develop heart disease at a younger age than women do, but medical researchers now are uncovering other important gender-specific risks that can have a profound effect on men's health. What you need to know…

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is slightly more common in men than it is in women. Most of these malignancies begin as small masses of precancerous cells (polyps). By removing these growths before they become cancerous, doctors can prevent most colorectal malignancies.

Interesting fact: Men are most likely to develop polyps in the rectum (the last few inches of the large intestine) and the left side of the colon (the major part of the large intestine, above the rectum), while in women, polyps tend to develop in the right side of the colon.

How men can protect themselves: Starting at age 50, all men should have an annual fecal occult blood test (FOBT). This test can detect hidden blood in the stool, which may signal cancer.

Important: To ensure accurate test results, about three days prior to the FORT, avoid certain foods, including red meat, radishes, cauli-flower and cantaloupe (these foods contain a chemical that can affect test results).

The FOBT should be performed each year in addition to a colonoscopy (the "gold standard" for detecting polyps and early-stage malignancies in the large intestine) every five years. If a polyp is found, a repeat colonoscopy in three years is advisable.


Stroke prevention may be especially important for reducing dementia risk in men, according to a new study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. Re-searchers found that a history of stroke was a major predictor of dementia in men but not in women, even though stroke rates are similar for both sexes. Researchers theorize that this disparity may be due, in part, to diet.

How men can protect themselves: Pay close attention to blood pressure. High blood pressure (hypertension) is the single most im-portant controllable risk factor for stroke.

In addition, at least every two years, all men over age 40 should have an ultrasound of their carotid (neck) arteries, which deliver blood to the brain. Excessive fatty buildup (plaque) in these arteries may increase stroke risk. If necessary, plaque can be removed with a surgical procedure known as endarterectomy—a doctor makes an incision in the affected artery and uses a specially designed tool to remove plaque. In some cases, cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can reduce plaque.


Research has shown that a history of depression is an independent risk factor for heart disease in men but not in women. Another study found that men who had suffered depression in their 20s were twice as likely to develop heart disease later in life as those without a history of depression.

Why does depression have such a dramatic effect on men's health?

One theory points to the fact that depression goes undiagnosed and untreated more often in men than in women.

Important: Treatment with prescription an-tidepressants and/or psychotherapy probably lowers the chance of developing heart disease in people with depression, though this has not been proven in studies.

How men can protect themselves: Any man who suffers symptoms of depression should see his doctor.

Caution: Classic depression symptoms, such as expressing sadness or hopelessness to others, are more likely to occur in women than in men. In men, depression is usually characterized by persistent irritability, increased use of alcohol, disturbed sleep patterns (insomnia or sleeping too much) and an inability to function effectively at work.

Also helpful: Any man who has ever been diagnosed with depression shoukl have a base-line stress echocardiogram (which uses sound waves to produce images of the heart) or a stress thallium test (which involves the use of a radioactive dye to show how well blood flows to the heart).

High Blood Pressure

One-third of American adults have high blood pressure. In men, the condition can be affected by such factors as…

  • Lack of treatment. Men with high blood pressure are less likely than women to have the problem successfully treated—possibly be-cause of an unwillingness to take medication that has been prescribed for the condition. One study found that only 19% of men with high blood pressure had the condition controlled, compared with 28% of women.

How men can protect themselves: Men over age 40 should have an annual physical that includes a blood pressure check. A reading above 130/80 mmHg requires treatment including lifestyle measures (such as following a healthful diet, maintaining a normal weight, exercising regularly, not smoking and limiting sodium and alcohol intake) and, in many cases, medication.

Important: Men with high blood pressure should be rechecked after three months if blood pressure medication is prescribed—drug thera-py often must be adjusted. Subsequent checks should occur every six months.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea. This condition. marked by brief interruptions in breathing during sleep, can cause or aggravate high blood pressure. Sleep apnea is more common in men than in women.

How men can protect themselves: If you have symptoms (if sleep apnea, such as loud snoring, gasping for air during the night and/ or excessive daytime sleepiness, see your doc-tor. The condition can be treated with lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, and/or the use of a face mask that delivers air pressure to help keep the sufferer's airways open during sleep.

Lung Cancer

Smoking is the most common culprit in lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths in the US.

Important new study: National Cancer Institute researchers recently compared lung cancer risk in male and female smokers, taking into account not only whether people smoke, but also how much. In men and women who smoked about the same amount, men had a slightly higher risk for lung cancer. Also, male former smokers were more likely to develop lung cancer than female former smokers with similar smoking histories.

Interesting fact: Lung cancer usually produces symptoms at an earlier stage in men than in women—perhaps because men's cancers tend to cluster in the center of the lung, whereas women's are more often located at the periphery of the lung. A centrally located lung malignancy is more likely to cause a blood-producing cough.

How men can protect themselves: In addition to not smoking, any Mall who has ever smoked—no matter how long ago—should have a chest X-ray to st.teen for lung cancer even if he has no symptoms of the disease. He should ask to be tested for lung cancer (with a CT scan, for example) if he has symptoms of a lung malignancy, including lung infections more than once a year. hoarseness, shortness of breath, cough or chest pain.

Testicular Cancer

Most people think that testicular cancer is a young man's disease, since most cases occur between ages 15 and 34, but it is also relatively common between ages 50 and 60. The risk is highest in men who have a father or brother who has had testicular cancer and in those with a history of an undescended testicle, in which one of the testes failed to move down from the abdomen into the scrotal sac after birth.

How men can protect themselves: All men should examine their testicles monthly for any hard lumps—the most common warning sign of testicular cancer. Most testicular malignancies are painless, but they may produce a dull ache or a feeling of heaviness in the affected testicle or groin area or cause the affected testicle to enlarge. Breast tenderness or an increase in breast size also can occur with testicular cancer.

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