Why do we need an Office of Men’s Health and why do we need more emphasize put on men’s health awareness? Studies like this one in the UK answer these simple questions:

A recent study published this week by the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) and Cancer Research UK, concluded that men are almost 40 per cent more likely than women to die from cancer and they are 16 per cent more likely to develop the disease in the first place!

After they performed their statistical analysis, which excluded breast cancer and cancers specific to one or other sex from the analysis, the difference between the genders is even greater – with men being almost 70 per cent more likely to die from cancer and over 60 per cent more likely to develop cancer!

The researchers then further evaluated thesa figures, excluding lung cancer as well, because the disease and its main risk factor, smoking, is known to be more common in men.
They expected to see that, across the broad range of remaining cancer types, men and women were just as likely to die from and get the disease. However, they found that for all of these cancers combined, men were still 70 per cent more likely to die from cancer and 60 per cent more likely to get cancer!

What could possibly explain this surprising and dramatic difference in cancer dynamics in the sexes? Experts have suggested that a possible explanation for the differences seen could be directly related to the stereotypical male behavior of ignoring and playing down early symptoms as well as maintaining a generally more unhealthy lifestyle then women.

Professor David Forman, information lead for the NCIN, said, “For many of the types of cancer we looked at that affect both sexes, there’s no known biological reason why men should be at a greater risk than women, so we were surprised to see such consistent differences.”

“After taking out the effect of age, men were significantly more likely than women to die from every one of the specific types of cancer considered and, apart from melanoma, they were also significantly more likely to develop the disease. Men have a reputation for having a ‘stiff upper lip’ and not being as health-conscious as women.”

“What we see from this report could be a reflection of this attitude, meaning men are less likely to make lifestyle changes that could reduce their risk of the disease and less likely to go to their doctor with cancer symptoms. Late diagnosis makes most forms of the disease harder to treat.”

The report looked at the number of cancer deaths in the UK in 2007 and the number of new cases of cancer in 2006, broken down by cancer type. The cancers that were not sex-specific were grouped together and the researchers then looked at the ratio of men to women in each category.

Professor Alan White, Professor of Men’s Health at Leeds Metropolitan University and Chair of the Men’s Health Forum, said: “The evidence shows that men are generally not aware that, as well as smoking, carrying excess weight around the waist, having a high alcohol intake and a poor diet and their family history all contribute to their increased risk of developing and dying prematurely from cancer, but more research needs to be done before we can be sure exactly why this gender gap exists.”

“This report clearly demonstrates that a concerted effort needs to be made into getting the public, the health professionals and the policy makers aware of the risks men are facing. Many of these deaths could be avoided by changes in lifestyle and earlier diagnosis.”

Looking at statistics like these, I continue to wonder why the United States continues to question the value of early detection and awareness programs. There are many such programs established and well funded for women’s cancers, but not so for men.

Joel T Nowak MA, MSW