It is very important that men take on an active role in managing their own health.
Read on to discover some ways in which you can be pro-active regarding important health issues of significance to men.
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death in North American men & is the most common cancer found in Canadian men. Nearly 400 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every week in & about 80 Canadian men die from this disease weekly. While prostate cancer mainly affects men after the age of 65, there is increased risk in younger men with a family history of the disease, who are of African ancestry or who have high levels of testosterone.
What is the prostate?
The prostate is a part of the male reproductive system; it is a gland about the size of a walnut that sits below the bladder. The major function of the prostate is to produce seminal fluid.
Early detection of prostate cancer can be important in preventing death from this disease. All men above the age of 50, or younger men at increased risk should ask their doctor about being screened for prostate cancer. Screening is typically done in one of two ways: the digital rectal examination (DRE) & the prostate-specific antigen test (PSA). Each of these tests has its own limitations & in certain cases, combined screening with both tests may be recommended.
The digital rectal exam involves the physician placing a lubricated gloved finger inside the rectum to feel the prostate gland allowing him or her to note its size, shape and consistency, any nodules or tenderness. When the physician does this exam, you may feel some mild discomfort & the urge to urinate.
The prostate-specific antigen test is a blood test that measures the levels of prostate specific antigen, a substance made by the prostate. Cancer of the prostate, as well as certain other conditions such as prostate enlargement, can cause your levels of PSA to rise.
Possible symptoms of prostate cancer
-Weak & interrupted urine flow
-Inability to urinate or trouble starting or stopping urination
-Urgent need to urinate
-Frequent urination, especially at night
-Blood in your urine
-Pain during ejaculation
The incidence of testicular cancer is low (about 4 in 100 000 men), but it is most common in younger men aged 15-35 years. You may be at greater risk for testicular cancer if you have a history of cancer in one of your testicles or if you have an undescended testicle. Other risk factors include a history of inflammation of your testicles caused by mumps, an inguinal hernia & fluid buildup in your scrotum as a child.
If testicular cancer is detected early, it has a very good prognosis, so it is important to ask your doctor about having a testicular exam. This will basically involve the physician inspecting the skin of your scrotum & feeling each testis for any abnormalities. If there is any swelling found in your scrotum, the doctor might use a flashlight to examine it by darkening the room & shining a beam of light from behind the scrotum to see how the light is transmitted through the swelling.
Although it is best to have your doctor perform a testicular exam, it may help in early detection of any abnormalities if you learn to conduct a testicular self exam. It is best to do this just after a warm bath or shower since the heat relaxes the scrotum & makes any abnormalities easier to find. Here’s a breakdown of a basic testicular self-exam:
-Stand in front of a mirror & look for any swelling on the skin of the scrotum.
-Using your hands, examine each testicle by cupping your index & middle fingers under the testicle & placing your thumbs on the top.
-Roll the testicle between the thumbs and fingers noting any lumps or pain. If one testicle happens to be bigger than the other, don't panic, this is normal.
-At the back of the testicle, you will find a structure that collects & carries sperm called the epididymis which should be soft & tube-like. Note any abnormal lump.
-If you find a lump, this does not necessarily mean you have cancer since it could be an infection for instance, but you should still go to see your doctor about any lumps just in case. Cancerous lumps left untreated will allow the cancer to spread & become more serious.
-painless lump on testicle
-heavy feeling or dull ache in lower abdomen, groin or scrotum
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is when a man is unable to get and maintain erection of the penis long enough to have sex at least half of the time that he tries to. ED can have a negative effect on male self-image & on a man’s sex life. While many men find ED difficult to talk about, it is important to try to talk to your doctor about treatment since many men with ED can be helped. Also, if you are experiencing ED, you are not alone: most men have ED every so often & roughly 34% of Canadian men have it on a regular basis.
Causes of ED may be both physical & emotional/psychological in nature.
Physical causes of ED may include the following:
-Decreased blood flow to vessels supplying the penis such as with atherosclerosis
-Problems with nerve stimulation of the penis as with brain or spinal cord injuries
-Drinking & Smoking
-Diabetes, liver or kidney failure, Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease
-Testicular radiation therapy
Emotional causes of ED may include the following:
-Nervousness or self-consciousness about sex
-Experiencing relationship problems
Consult your doctor in order to find the ED treatment that is appropriate for you. Generally, treatment directed at an underlying physical cause might involve using drug therapy or surgery, while treatment of an emotional cause may involve other approaches such as counseling. Drugs can also be used to directly treat the ED itself such as Sildenafil (Viagara).
Premature ejaculation happens when a man ejaculates before he wishes to or too early during intercourse before his partner is satisfied. It is a common occurrence, especially in young men. The usual causes of premature ejaculation are anxiety & overstimulation.
The condition generally improves with practice, relaxation & without official treatment. Some men find the following techniques helpful in delaying ejaculation:
-Slowing excitation by thinking non-sexual thoughts
-The "stop and start" method:
--> Sexual stimulation is allowed until the man is close to ejaculation, at which point the stimulation is removed for about 30 seconds before being resumed. This is repeated until it is the appropriate time for ejaculation & stimulation is continued until ejaculation occurs.
-The "squeeze" method
--> Sexual stimulation is continued until the man is close to ejaculation at which point the man or his partner gently squeezes the end of the penis for a few before stimulation is resumed. This is repeated until it is the appropriate time for ejaculation & stimulation is continued until ejaculation occurs.
-Local anesthetic creams are sometimes used on the penis to decrease feeling & prolong the time before ejaculation.
A basic review of the urinary system in males
Both males & females normally have two kidneys that form the urine. This urine exits the kidneys by way of two tube-like structures (one for each kidney) called ureters which provide a passage for urine into the bladder where it is stored until it must be emptied. When the bladder is ready to be emptied, urine will flow out through another tube-like structure called the urethra. In males, unlike females, this urethra has to pass through the prostate gland which sits just below the bladder. The urethra then continues through the length of the penis & finally, urine exits the urethra at its external opening at the tip of the penis (where semen also exits on ejaculation).
Do men get urinary tract infections?
Although urinary tract infections (UTIs) are not nearly as common in younger men as they are in women, men can certainly be affected. Strictly speaking, a UTI is an infection of the urinary tract itself (ureters, kidney, bladder), but men are actually most often diagnosed with an infection of the prostate gland, called prostatitis.
Most UTIs happen as a result of infectious organisms gaining access to the urinary tract through the external opening of the urethra. Infection then spreads upwards along the urinary tract. Most of the culprits causing UTIs are normal inhabitants of the bowel, with the bacterium, E.coli, being the most common cause.
Some symptoms that might suggest a UTI include pain in the pubic area, discomfort or burning on urination and increased frequency of urination. If the infection has spread as far as the kidney or into the prostate, more symptoms might result such as back pain, fever or chills. If you experience this latter set of symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
While any man can be affected by a UTI, it is important to remember that UTIs in men more commonly occur in individuals with anatomical abnormalities in their urinary tract which have sometimes been present since birth. The doctor might therefore look into ruling out this possibility.
To confirm that you have a UTI, you may have to give a urine sample. The treatment will vary somewhat depending on the severity & which parts of the urinary tract are affected, but luckily, most UTIs are easily treated with oral or IV antibiotics.
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Inflammation of the head of the penis & the foreskin
Inflammation of the ‘head’ or glans of the penis is called balanitis; inflammation of both the glans and the foreskin is called balanoposthitis. Sometimes, as a result of balanitis, the foreskin can get ‘stuck’ and cannot be retracted leading to a condition called phimosis.
Balanitis happens more commonly in uncircumcised men, especially if personal hygiene is sub-par. If the glans is not getting proper aeration or is becoming irritated by smegma or penile discharge, inflammation and swelling can occur. Possible causes of balanitis other than poor hygiene include irritants like certain soaps or perfumes, diabetes and heart conditions, adverse drug reactions, yeast infections, human papilloma virus (HPV) infection and certain bacterial infections. Symptoms that might be noticed in balanitis include itching, redness, discharge, swelling, inability to retract foreskin (phimosis), ulceration or plaques.
Simple balanitis can usually be treated with daily retraction of the foreskin & soaking as well as with topical antifungal or antibacterial creams as necessary. In more complicated cases where phimosis has developed, more invasive intervention including circumcision might be required.
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Male Breast Disorders
Breast cancer is rare in men, with roughly 2000 new cases projected to be diagnosed in 2007 in the U.S. It mostly affects men in the 6th/7th decades of life. Some men are more at risk for breast cancer however, including those who have been exposed to radiation, who have a strong family history of breast cancer or who have higher estrogen levels due to liver disease or other conditions.
Warning signs to be aware of include breast lumps, changes to your nipples or the skin around your breasts and any nipple discharge.
Male breast cancer is usually treated by masectomy (surgical removal of the breast), but chemotherapy, radiation or hormone therapy may also be used. The outcome for men with breast cancer depends on the stage of their cancer at diagnosis, but is thought to be similar to the prognosis for women.
Gynecomastia is an increase in the amount of breast tissue in males and it is not a cancerous condition. It results when there is increased presence of estrogen in the male body which can happen when men suffer from liver disease, tumors in hormone-producing glands or obesity. It can also be a side effect of certain medications.