There are health tests we need, and those we don't. Pelvic ultrasound? Sounds ultrasuspicious. Occult blood test? Only if it comes with an exorcism. Urinalysis? Great, now I'll be kicked off the tour...
It's tough to know which of these are truly essential, especially when they're packaged with dozens of other tests and called an "executive health exam." And yet thousands of men sign up for these screenings -- at an out-of-pocket cost of up to $10,000 apiece -- based on the sales pitch that a test may uncover a hidden health condition.
Of course, 10 grand might be worth it if all that random screening actually did any good. But a seminal study by the Rand Corporation found that patients who had the most screenings over five years were no healthier than those given less medical attention. This isn't to say executive health exams are scams. They can be quite valuable -- if you know which of the procedures are worthwhile. So we asked our experts to create an a la carte menu to bring to your GP. Think of these as the best tests for a recession.
These colorful 3-D images allow radiologists to calculate one of your most important heart numbers: your coronary artery calcium score, a measure of how much plaque is piling up in your arteries. A 2007 study of over 10,000 people published in the journal Atherosclerosis reported that calcium scores alone can predict heart attacks, while a 2003 study found that a high calcium score is associated with a tenfold increase in heart-disease risk. This is compared with a less-than-twofold increase in risk from traditional risk factors such as diabetes and smoking. The test has one significant downside: The radiation exposure from your average cardiac CT is equal to 600 chest X-rays, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This produces a 1-in-5,000 risk of cancer, another study reveals.
Who needs it: Men with some of the risk factors for heart disease whose physicians may be on the fence about starting treatment. "In these medium-risk cases, cardiac CT scans and calcium scoring can provide the extra level of information that we feel we need," says Gerald Fletcher, M.D., a professor of cardiology at the Mayo Clinic. The lower the calcium score, the lower the risk. If you reach 112, your physician might recommend aspirin or statins.
Cost: $350 to $900. Most insurance companies will reimburse you if you've previously had an abnormal stress test or chest pain.
Think osteoporosis affects only old ladies? Fact is, men begin losing bone mass at age 30. That's why it's important to assess the state of your skeleton now with a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan, which uses low-radiation X-rays to gauge bone mineral density (it can also measure body fat percentage). "DEXA scans allow us to identify people at high risk for fracture so they can start treatment to strengthen their bones before a fracture occurs," says Murray J. Favus, M.D., director of the bone program at the University of Chicago medical center. Your doctor might suggest adding strengthening workouts to your exercise program and supplementing your daily diet with up to 1,000 milligrams of calcium and up to 400 IU of vitamin D.
Who needs it: Anyone with any osteoporosis risk factors: inactivity, smoking, a family history of the disease.
Cost: $250 to $300. To increase the odds of your insurance covering the scan, make sure your doctor notes any risk factors.
More from Men's Health: