The Cancer Gender Gap

Men, let's talk about cancer

Statistics suggests a worrying trend in cancer prevalence and mortality rates – cancer is more likely to affect men than women.

According to a 2009 report, men are sixteen percent more likely to get cancer than women, and forty percent more likely to die from the disease. When researchers adjusted the data to examine only cancers that affected both men and women, the difference became even more alarming. Men were sixty percent more likely to get cancer than women, and seventy percent more likely to die from it.

Why is Cancer More Common In Men?

The reasons for these disparities are not fully understood, but experts have offered several potential explanations. Firstly, male lifestyle factors may account for some of the differences. For example, men are far more likely to smoke than women. Globally, it is estimated that forty percent of men smoke, in comparison with less than nine percent of women. However, the gender differences on other lifestyle factors are less clear-cut. For instance, a 2016 study found that the male-female gap in alcohol use is closing. Clearly, lifestyle factors are not the only factor at play.

Toxic masculinity may also play a role. From a young age, boys are taught it’s not okay to express their feelings; “boys don’t cry.” We tell young men to “man up,” to not show weakness. To “be a man” means to be strong, brave, and self-reliant. Unfortunately, these gender stereotypes and norms may deter men from seeking help for health problems.

Furthermore, women typically have more frequent contact with health professionals (for example, during pregnancy). As a result, women have more opportunities to discuss worrying symptoms, as well as for education on signs, symptoms, and prevention of cancer.

Finally, research suggests genetic differences between males and females may also be a contributory factor. According to a 2016 report from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, females carry an extra copy of certain protective genes in their cells. This genetic difference may also explain why men and women respond differently to treatment.

Improving the Prognosis for Men with Cancer

Today, it is estimated that half of men will receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetimes. Although recent research suggests that the cancer gender gap is narrowing, the fact remains early detection of cancer can save lives.

If we want to help more men beat cancer, we must ensure that healthcare services are accessible, affordable, and appropriate. We need not only more research, education, and awareness, but also a shift in attitudes: men must perceive self-advocacy and help-seeking not as signs of weakness, but as signs of strength.

 


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— Charles, y4c training graduate

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