November is Movember: What You Need to Know About Men’s Health

For nearly twenty years, Movember has been raising awareness of men’s health issues every November. The movement started with two friends in Australia who used their mustaches to spark conversations about prostate cancer. Today, the project supports men’s health initiatives around the world.  

Movember also raises awareness that, on average, women outlive men by five years.  

“We know that men seek out medical care less frequently than women, for both preventative services and sick visits,” says Benjamin Scallon, M.D., primary care physician at Weill Cornell Medicine at Long Island City and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. “There are many complicated reasons why, ranging from a gendered masculine script of independence and resilience to nongendered-specific reasons, such as not wanting to take time away from work.” 

If you’re a man and don’t want to be part of this statistic, there are things you can do to take control of your health. Learning the basics and taking your preventative health care seriously is a great start. 

Prostate Health 

The prostate is a gland that sits below the bladder and surrounds the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder. The fluid in semen is made in the prostate. There are many different types of prostate diseases. Two common prostate issues that men have are an enlarged prostate and prostate cancer. 

Enlarged Prostate 

Enlarged prostate is also called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). The prostate naturally grows as you age. As it grows, it can press on the urethra. 

The older you are, the more likely you will have BPH. Some men may start having symptoms of BPH in their 40s. Nearly all men who live to be 80 or older will have BPH. 

BPH is not the same as prostate cancer. It’s not life-threatening, but it can decrease your quality of life, causing: 

  • Bladder incontinence 
  • Difficulty emptying the bladder 
  • Frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom 
  • Pain when urinating 
  • Trouble starting the stream of urine 
  • Weak flow of urine 

“BPH symptoms should be treated for two reasons. One, of course, is quality of life,” says Douglas Scherr, M.D., board-certified urologist, professor of urology and the clinical director of urologic oncology at the Weill Cornell Medical College. “The second reason is that if someone is walking around with a full bladder, it ultimately can damage their kidneys and bladder, which could lead to a very serious medical problem.” 

BPH is usually diagnosed based on medical history, a digital rectal exam and a blood test to look for high levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA). This is a protein produced by the prostate.  

Levels of PSA may be higher than normal if you have BPH or prostate cancer. If your PSA test is high, your provider may order more testing to better understand what is happening with your prostate. These tests might include getting images with an MRI or taking a small sample of the prostate tissue through a biopsy. 

Prostate Cancer 

In the United States, prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer in men.  

You may be at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer if you: 

  • Are 50 years old or older 
  • Are African American 
  • Have a close family member who has had breast, ovarian or prostate cancer 

In general, prostate cancer screening with a PSA test is recommended every two to three years for men aged 55 to 69 and earlier for those at high risk. However, prostate cancer tends to be very slow growing, and screening has pros and cons. 

“There’s evidence that getting one PSA test in your 40s can determine the frequency of future testing,” says Jim Hu, M.D., MPH, board-certified urological surgeon and professor of urology and urologic oncology at Weill Cornell Medical College. ”If your PSA is less than one, you have a low lifetime risk of having or developing prostate cancer. If that PSA is greater than one in your 40s, it must be monitored more closely.” 

Talk with your provider to decide if and when prostate cancer screening is right for you. 

Skin Cancer 

Skin cancer screenings should be a consideration for any man who spends time outdoors. Ideally, men reapply a broad-spectrum sunscreen every two hours, shielding their skin from UVB and UVA. With that protection and being mindful of staying out of direct sunlight during the sunniest parts of the day (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), men can reduce their chance of developing skin cancer. 

Regardless of sun exposure, skin cancer screenings are still recommended. Regular spot checks are always a good idea, but the professionals suggest an annual, full-body screening. 

“As a general rule,” says Andrew Alexis, M.D., MPH, the vice-chair for diversity and inclusion for the Department of Dermatology and dermatologist at the Center for Diverse Skin Complexions at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, “once a year, full body skin examination is the ideal. And by full body skin examination, I mean head to toe. While the sun is the most important or most common risk factor for most of the skin cancers we see, there are instances, including in patients of color, where skin cancers can occur in places that don't get much sun exposure. So we have to look at everything from hands to toes, the bottoms of feet, between the toes, and areas that are typically covered up by clothing.” 

Testicular Cancer 

Testicular cancer is not very common overall. However, it is the most common cancer in young men aged 15 to 44.  

In most cases, testicular cancer is treatable and curable if discovered early. Monthly self-checks are an excellent way to tell if anything is changing or different. 

Make an appointment with your provider if you: 

  • Are not able to find one or both testicles  
  • Feel a group of soft, thin tubes above your testicles 
  • Find a hard lump, even a tiny one 
  • Have discomfort, pain or swelling in your scrotum 
  • Notice anything abnormal for you 

Mental Health 

Health is more than just physical. Mental health matters too. About a quarter of men will have an anxiety disorder during their lifetime. Depression also affects millions of American men each year.  

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends anxiety screening for all adults under age 64 and depression screening for adults of all ages. 

“Screening for anxiety and depression is important, especially since men are much less likely than women to seek care for mental health issues,” says Dr. Scallon. “The reasons why men do not seek out care probably include a ‘pick yourself up by the bootstraps’ mentality, as well as persistent stigma towards mental health in our society.” 

Signs of an anxiety disorder may include: 

  • A sudden racing heartbeat for no known reason 
  • Feeling fear or panic 
  • Obsessive thoughts 

Depression may cause: 

  • Changes in your sleep patterns 
  • Feeling sad or worthless 
  • Loss of interest in your hobbies or other things you usually enjoy 
  • Low energy 
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else 
  • Weight gain or loss 

Dealing with mental health issues doesn't mean you’re weak. It means you’re human. Treatments are available to address and manage mental health problems.  

Erectile Dysfunction and Cardiovascular Health 

Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is a common reason men go to see their provider. However, many men may be surprised by the cause of their ED.  

“Men often see me for help with erectile dysfunction, not realizing it can be associated with heart and vascular disease,” Dr. Scallon says. “It is important for men to maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle by not smoking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising.” 

Low testosterone levels are another possible reason for erectile dysfunction. Your provider can test your levels with a blood test and provide treatment if it’s found to be low. If your testosterone levels are low, you may also experience: 

  • Fatigue 
  • Hair loss 
  • Weight gain 

All parts of the body are connected. To improve your heart health, mental health, prostate health, sexual health and overall quality of life: 

  • Eat a healthy diet 
  • Get enough exercise 
  • Have a consistent sleep schedule 
  • Learn to manage stress  

Getting regular checkups and recommending screenings will help you detect problems early, stay healthy and prevent the need for more intensive medical treatment later on. 

Don’t wait to take care of your health. Find a doctor and make an appointment today.