Men’s Health: Doctor Visits to Have Through the Years

This story originally ran November 9, 2017, and was updated June 18, 2024.

Pop quiz, just for men: What’s your doctor’s name?

Wait, you do have a doctor, right?

For about 18 percent of men in the United States, the answer is no.

“Women start seeing an OB-GYN in young adulthood, so they have a regular point of contact with a doctor, but men don’t have an equivalent,” says UNC Health urologist Eric Wallen, MD, director of the UNC Men’s Health Program. “As a result, men don’t go to the doctor regularly for preventive healthcare.”

We spoke to Dr. Wallen about why regular healthcare is important for men and what doctors will be looking for at every stage of life.

Why Men Need Regular Visits to the Doctor

Men ages 19 to 49 should have a physical exam every year or two; at age 50, they should have one annually. A primary care doctor or family medicine physician can administer these exams and serve as your home base for medical care.

Dr. Wallen says that men, especially younger ones, tend to think that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, so they’ll skip these routine visits when they’re feeling well and only seek healthcare when they’re sick or injured.

“That’s problematic because issues like diabetes and obesity start in young adulthood,” Dr. Wallen says. “If you show up when you’re in your 50s, we’re behind and playing catch-up.”

Heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death for men, so routine visits are focused on tracking changes in blood pressure, cholesterol levels and weight that could indicate a potential concern, as well as ensuring that you receive the necessary screenings for your age. If you have a family history of colon cancer or prostate cancer, you may need to begin screenings earlier.

Your doctor will also provide guidance on building habits to help you live your healthiest life possible, including exercising, eating well, getting adequate sleep and managing stress.

Talking About Tough Stuff with Your Doctor

Societal norms related to masculinity can make it difficult for men to be honest with their doctors about their symptoms. Full disclosure can help your doctor provide the best care.

“Tell your doctor if there’s a change in your sexual function or erections,” Dr. Wallen says. “That could be a red flag for heart disease.”

You should also be prepared to get into emotional concerns.

Mental health should be discussed at every visit,” Dr. Wallen says. Stigma may prevent men from recognizing or reporting symptoms of depression, so they may not get an adequate diagnosis or treatment. Men are more likely than women to die by suicide.

If you find it difficult to talk about sensitive topics, Dr. Wallen recommends that you write things down, so you don’t forget to bring them up. “It can feel easier to hand a list of questions to the doctor and ask them to read and address them rather than having to initiate a conversation,” he says.

Men can be fearful of receiving a diagnosis of cancer or heart disease, but Dr. Wallen says that it’s vital to address the conditions.

“Cancer can be very treatable at an early stage, so get on top of your health and stay on top of it,” he says. “Go to the doctor for yourself and for the sake of your family.”

A Men’s Health Timeline

What are the key health issues that you should address? Use this decade-by-decade timeline as a guide.

All Ages

During regular checkups, your doctor will evaluate you for:

  • Heart and vascular health (including checking your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and family history of heart disease)
  • Risk-taking behavior
  • Substance use
  • Depression and other mental health concerns
  • Weight issues
  • Possible screening for sexually transmitted infections

Your doctor may also recommend routine vaccines, including:

  • Tetanus and diphtheria booster
  • Shingles vaccine
  • Pneumonia vaccine
  • Flu shot
  • COVID-19 vaccine and boosters

Bring a list of your prescriptions and doses, or the prescription bottles themselves, to each appointment. This will help your doctor assess any drug interactions or side effects.

Your 20s

  • Talk to your doctor about managing your weight, heart health and stress.
  • Talk to family members about their health, so that you know if you have an increased risk for conditions such as heart disease, stroke or cancer, and share this information with your doctor.

Your 30s

  • Your doctor will become more concerned with your cardiovascular risk factors; now is the time to make lifestyle choices to set yourself up for a healthy middle age.
  • You might be raising a family and dealing with a hectic career. If you feel overwhelmed with stress or you’re struggling with mental health, talk to your doctor, who can refer you to a therapist or prescribe medication.

Your 40s

  • It’s more important than ever to check your cardiovascular risk factors: blood pressure, cholesterol levels and tobacco use.
  • If you are Black or if you have a close relative who has had colon cancer or prostate cancer, talk to your doctor about a colonoscopy or prostate cancer screening. If your risk is high, your doctor may begin screening at age 40 or 45.
  • This is when erectile dysfunction can start. It’s treatable, and there is no reason to be embarrassed. Make sure to tell your doctor.
  • Get screened for diabetes.

Your 50s and 60s

  • At this stage, your risk factors for disease—especially heart disease and cancer—continue to rise. Keep getting your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked, and talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes that can help your health.
  • If you smoke or have smoked, talk to your doctor about lung cancer screening. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among men and women.
  • At 50, talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of prostate cancer screening.
  • Get screened for colon cancer, regardless of your family history. If you’re at average risk, get your first colonoscopy at age 50 and repeat every 10 years.
  • Erectile dysfunction is more common at this age. Let your doctor know if you’re having a problem, as it can be treated.
  • Talk to your doctor about your nutritional needs.
  • Get screened for diabetes.

Your 70s and Beyond

  • Continue to be screened for diabetes.
  • Have your weight assessed, and ask about weight-control methods.
  • Talk to your doctor about whether you should continue screening for colon and prostate cancers.
  • If you want, talk to your doctor about sexuality and how to maintain intimacy as you age.
  • Tell your doctor about any falls or balance issues.
  • Share concerns about memory lapses and find out about evaluations for cognitive impairment.
  • Make sure your doctor is continuing to evaluate your mental health; older adults are especially prone to depression.

 Have a question about your health? Talk to your doctor. If you need a doctor, find one near you.