For all the wives, daughters and girlfriends who have wrung their hands over the health habits of the men in their lives, science is beginning to back up their argument. Men’s notorious reluctance to see a doctor may be contributing to a growing gap in cancer rates between men and women.
According to a recent study, men are more likely to develop and die from cancer than women – even those cancers affecting both sexes. And the difference is not biological, but behavioral, based on 2009 research by the National Cancer Intelligence Network: men are less health conscious, more reluctant to visit a doctor when symptoms arise, and less likely to make lifestyle changes.
At least one third of all cancers can be prevented through lifestyle changes, according to the World Health Organization: avoiding tobacco, eating healthy, staying active and losing weight. Regular screenings and self-examinations for certain cancers are part of the prescription for good health, too.
While screenings and self-awareness won’t prevent cancer, they do increase the chance of discovering cancer early, when it is most treatable. In addition to genetics and lifestyle habits, advancing age is a major risk factor for cancer in both sexes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks the 10 most common cancers diagnosed among American men in order of prevalence, as:
1. prostate cancer
2. lung cancer
3. colon and rectal cancer
4. urinary and bladder cancer
5. skin cancer
6. non-Hodgkins lymphoma
7. kidney cancer
8. mouth and throat cancer
10. pancreatic cancer
A man’s preventive health regime should include initial cancer screenings and repeat checks for the following common cancers:
Beginning at age 50, men should undergo an annual prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and digital rectal exam (DRE). Men with risk factors such as a first-degree relative or multiple relatives with prostate cancer, or African-American heritage, should consider beginning screenings earlier, at age 40 to 45.
Testicular cancer has no known risk factors and is most common among Caucasian men age 20 to 54. It can develop in one or both testicles of men at any age. Testicular cancer is highly treatable and can usually be cured. Self-screenings should be performed regularly and changes in appearance or feel of the testes should be reported to your doctor.
Beginning at age 50, men should be screened using one of the following tests: a fecal occult blood test (annually), fecal immunochemical test (annually), or a stool DNA test.
Other, more invasive tests that find both polyps and cancer include a flexible sigmoidoscopy (every 5 years), a colonoscopy (every 10 years), and a double contrast barium enema (every 5 years). Recent data suggests that virtual colonoscopy is not as sensitive as a colonoscopy at detecting colon cancer. .
Though no clear cause exists, certain risks have been linked to bladder cancer: smoking, age, race, working in industries with frequent exposure to chemicals, and gender – men are four times as likely to develop bladder cancer as women. Symptoms include blood in the urine or changes in bladder habits, although these symptoms do not necessarily point to bladder cancer.
Screening tests include urine cytology or cystoscopy, in which the walls and/or cells of the bladder are examined, a urine culture or a biopsy. Regular screenings are not recommended unless symptoms or risk factors are present.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. – and men’s risk is nearly double that of women, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Additionally, the American Academy of Dermatology points out that men also have the highest chances of dying of melanoma, the most serious form of the disease. Why? Because men get more ultraviolet exposure, use sunscreen less, and have higher rates of sunburn and later detection.
Risk factors include a fair complexion, repeat sunburns, past skin cancers, and being over age 50. An annual skin cancer screening – a head-to-toe visual check of the skin and any moles, freckles or abnormal patches of skin – is a simple way to prevent or detect skin cancer.
For more information or to schedule a screening appointment, visit Walker Cancer Center at Brownwood Regional Medical Center at www.brmc-cares.com or call 325.649.5000.
Sources: The American Cancer Society (cancer.org), National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov)