The Screening Tests That Most Men Miss

by Carole Jackson>, Bottom Line Health

If you’re a man, then there’s a good chance that you take your health for granted. Now hold on a second, I don’t mean to insult you — you are probably great at many things, but odds are that going to the doctor isn’t one of them. A new study from the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa, Florida, shows that men are much less likely to get screened for cancer than women — and that’s a major cause for concern, because men have higher cancer death rates than women.

According to the most recent statistics from the CDC, three of the top five most commonly diagnosed cancers in men are prostate, colorectal and skin. And they’re all ones that the American Cancer Society (ACS) says that men should be screened for. For most men, colorectal and prostate screenings should start at age 50 and skin exams at age 20, but the ACS suggests talking to your doctor about your personal risk factors to determine the most appropriate age. How many have you been screened for recently?

To discuss the startling Moffitt finding in more detail, I called study coauthor Jenna L. Davis, MPH, research coordinator in the department of health outcomes and behavior at the center. The study results were published on November 8, 2011 in American Journal of Men’s Health.


Researchers examined data from a large-scale, random phone survey of approximately 1,150 adults in New York City, Baltimore and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The selected cities provided wide geographic, racial and ethnic representation, Davis explained. Most participants were between the ages of 30 and 59, and 35% were men.

In their analysis of answers, Davis and her team found that…

  • Roughly the same percentage of men (67%) and women (66%) believed that cancer screenings successfully detected cancer all or most of the time.
  • Even though they had the same faith in screening, 41% of men said that they had never had any type of cancer screening — compared with just 5% of women. This may sound hard to believe, since PSA tests (prostate screenings) and occult blood stool testing for colorectal cancer are typically included in a man’s annual physical. Davis said that these results could be due to the fact that men have had cancer screenings but simply didn’t realize that the tests were being performed — or, perhaps more likely, it’s because many men simply skip annual physicals.
  • When asked about their willingness to undergo screening for the following cancers — skin, lung, oral, stomach, colorectal, liver and blood (leukemia) — men’s responses indicated that they were less willing than women when the question was put in a general way. But, interestingly, when given specific details about the screening process, they became slightly more willing than women. Of course, you can’t judge willingness just by what people say, so it could have been that men wanted to appear willing — which is a far cry from actually getting yourself to the doctor for a test!


I asked Davis about why men aren’t getting screened as much as women are. She speculated that there are numerous reasons for this. Besides the fact that prior research has shown that men are less likely to go to the doctor than women, there’s an awareness problem. Media coverage tends to focus more on women’s cancers than men’s cancers. Even national government agencies promote greater cancer awareness among women — Davis noted that the National Institutes of Health has long had an Office of Research on Women’s Health, but it’s still working on one for men.

But what’s even more intriguing is Davis’s hopeful secondary finding — the silver lining is that once men learn some specifics about cancer screenings, they say that they’re more willing to go get screened than when they have only general information about the screening. So men — listen up! According to Davis, here’s how to be more informed, so you’re more motivated…

  • Go to the doctor at least once a year. The more regularly you see your primary care physician, the less likely you’ll fall behind on screenings and the more questions you can ask to ease any fears.
  • Learn more about cancer screening. Check out ACS’s cancer screening guidelines, which include recommendations for men of all ages, so you know when to get tested for what.
  • Advocate for your health. If your doctor does not perform certain screenings that the guidelines above recommend, speak up and ask why.


Jenna L. Davis, MPH, research coordinator, department of health outcomes and behavior, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, Tampa, Florida.