The co-authors of Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers, blog alternate posts weekly. We invite you to post your comments.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Men’s Health, The Big Picture


As a specialist in prostate cancer, I am in constant contact with men who are exerting prodigious efforts to get appropriate treatment for their disease. However, as many people are learning, low-risk forms of prostate cancer rarely lead to death.  Therefore, I am concerned that many men are missing the big picture regarding their overall health.  They have a greater risk of dying from other causes than from prostate cancer (Table 1).  Many of these common diseases are preventable by early detection.
The obvious place to start is with an annual physical with standard blood tests. Testing should include evaluation of liver and kidney function, mineral levels in the blood, evaluation of vitamin and hormone levels and testing for anemia and serum glucose. The specific blood tests are explained in more detail at
Heart Disease, the #1 Killer
The root cause of heart disease is cholesterol plaque, otherwise known as “hardening of the arteries” or atherosclerosis. Cholesterol infiltrating the arterial wall causes inflammation and scarring. Over time, scar tissue becomes calcified.  When plaque progresses to arterial blockage, a heart attack occurs. Similarly, a stroke occurs if an artery supplying blood to the brain is blocked.

Only Scans Can Measure Plaque
Cholesterol blood tests answer the question, “How much cholesterol is floating in the blood?" The real question that needs to be answered is, “How much cholesterol is sticking to the wall of the artery?”  Modern CT scans accurately measure coronary plaque with a dose of radiation similar to a set of dental X-rays. Color Doppler ultrasound measures plaque in the carotid arteries leading to the brain without any radiation exposure at all.
What if Plaque is Detected?
1. Obtain an exercise stress treadmill
2. Lower cholesterol and blood pressure
3. Inhibit blood coagulation with aspirin and fish oil
4. Follow a sensible diet and exercise regularly

With age, bones weaken from calcium loss. Osteoporosis is mistakenly thought to occur only in women.  However, one-third of hip fractures occur in men of advanced age.  Bone fractures have dire consequences associated with shortened survival, chronic pain and loss of height. Causes of osteoporosis include over-activity of the thyroid or parathyroid glands, excessive alcohol, caffeine or tobacco. Cortisone use, excess vitamin A, lack of exercise and vitamin D deficiency are additional potential causes. Hormone therapy used to treat prostate cancer can also cause osteoporosis.
Only Scans Can Detect Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis needs to be identified and treated before a fracture occurs. There are two types of scanning technology used to detect osteoporosis, DEXA and QCT.  While both types of scan are accurate in women, only QCT is accurate in men.  In men, DEXA seriously underestimates the degree of osteoporosis. 

Osteoporosis Treatment Protocol
1. Calcium 500 mg with dinner or at bedtime
2. Vitamin D 1,000 units daily.  Adjust dosage according to measured blood levels
3. Weight bearing exercise

4. Consider prescription medication with Fosamax, Boniva or Prolia

Colon Cancer
Colon cancer is easily curable when detected early. Screening can be accomplished with colonoscopy (a scope performed by a physician called a gastroenterologist), or with a CT scan, which is termed a virtual colonoscopy. 

Beware of Sarcopenia Muscle mass and strength automatically decline with age. Studies in otherwise healthy individuals indicate that poor fitness is more dangerous than smoking! Table 2 shows the dramatic difference in predicted 10-year survival of men age 65 depending on their fitness level. Muscle loss can be prevented with regular exercise consisting of weight training for an hour twice a week.

Lung Cancer Smokers who forgo lung scans are taking a huge risk. Lung cancer is almost universally fatal if diagnosed after symptoms such as cough, chest pain, or weight loss appear. CT scans can detect small lung cancers at an early stage when it can still be surgically removed and cured.  Smokers (and any ex-smokers who quit in the last 10-15 years) are crazy not to spring for $300 each year to have a lung scan done.

Flu and Pneumonia Flu is easily recognized by the sudden onset of fever, sore throat and body aches. Most people know about vaccines but forget that Tamiflu, an antibiotic, is effective if started within 24 hours of initial symptoms. The risk of pneumonia can be reduced by Pneumovax given every ten years. It is recommended for men who are over age 65 or who have a chronic illness. 

Conclusion The screening and early prevention program outlined in this article relies more heavily on scans, vaccines and prescription pharmaceuticals than many men would prefer. However, the serious health conditions listed above have a propensity to incubate silently until the day they suddenly explode on the scene as a full-blown disaster. The old aphorism, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” certainly applies when there is an opportunity to detect and prevent life-threatening illness at the earliest possible stage. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the useful and understandable summary of men's health/mortality risks and appropriate checkup and testing options. It's good to have a clear view of the big picture. Nicely done.