Father’s Day is next Sunday, and as we look forward to celebrating the dads in our life, it’s important to understand that based on the current statistics, men tend to neglect their health the most. Golfing, fishing, hunting, spending the day with kids and grandkids are all things we enjoy with the men in our lives. But what if their current health choices will limit their ability to do the things they love for years to come? According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, on average, men live shorter lives than women. In addition, it is estimated that one in six men will develop prostate cancer.
Michael Canfield, M.D., a physician at Primary Medicine Associates, explains that men’s health is not about going to the doctor because your wife is nagging you, or so your doctor can find something wrong. “I tell the men who come to my office that it’s not necessarily a yearly physical, but a yearly wellness screening,” Dr. Canfield says. “I think many men in the past have not wanted to visit their doctor because of fear that the doctor will find something wrong. I usually emphasize to men that if they come in, I will do an assessment of their current health—I will look at the things that they are doing well and give them options for how to improve. Men are afraid of digital rectal exams, but what they may not understand is that rectal exams, along with other screenings, are not necessarily recommended every year. Most importantly, men need to understand that if something is wrong, the earlier disease is detected, the better chance of prevention or management.”
Dr. Canfield explains that the most common conditions he sees in local men are related to smoking, obesity, alcohol consumption or lack of exercise. Many men are also afraid to get screened for specific diseases because of possible risk associated with screening tests. “Discuss your health and screening for certain diseases and cancers with your doctor,” Dr. Canfield states. “Patients need to discuss their personal risk factors. Reading information online or watching the news presents data for a population, which can be confusing. In reality, each person is unique and your risk factors are different than everyone else. Based on your personal wellness appraisal, your physician can explain what specific tests you need or what personal lifestyle changes you need to make. Your physician is trying to keep you well, not necessarily always trying to find something wrong.”
A Gulf War veteran, Dr. Canfield served as an associate chief of staff for ambulatory care at Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System prior to joining Primary Medicine Associates in March. He acknowledges the hesitation many men feel when coming to the doctor. “We grow up with the attitude that doctor visits are sick visits,” Canfield says. “That idea is passed down for generations. I think the important message for men, and their families, to understand is that you don’t go to the doctor only when you’re sick. You need to go to the doctor when you’re well, to ensure that you stay well. As opposed to coming to find out what’s wrong with you, come find out what you’re doing right in order to stay healthy.
“I hear often from men, ‘I’ll stop smoking or drinking when I begin to have evidence of disease,’” Dr. Canfield says. “Unfortunately, most tests and screenings for disease don’t detect in very early stages. By the time you have symptoms of disease for smoking or drinking, 50-60 percent of your organ is already damaged. It is important to understand that it is never too late to stop bad habits, but if you wait until you have symptoms that something is wrong, disease may have already done significant damage to your organs.”
Men’s health is important because many men do not take their health seriously until they are diagnosed with a disease. “I don’t necessarily tell a man what he can or can’t do,” Dr. Canfield notes. “Instead, I ask them what they enjoy doing—you can’t haul an oxygen tank on the golf course with your friends. If you want to continue your quality of life and the hobbies you enjoy with your family for the next 10 or 15 years, you may need to modify your lifestyle and make some small changes. Start by going to your family physician, discuss your personal risk factors that are unique to you and make a wellness plan that is individualized for your family history, personal risk factors and lifestyle.”
Steps men can take to improve their health: