Biology, lifestyle or the ‘ostrich factor’?
This particular gender gap is mysterious because there’s no significant biological reason as to why men should be more susceptible to many types of cancer than women. But men were more likely to die from any of the cancers investigated in the report, and – apart from malignant melanoma – were also more likely to develop the disease in the first place. So what’s the cause?Experts point the finger at two possible explanations. Firstly, lifestyle factors. As well as smoking, UK men are drinking increasing amounts of alcohol, putting on weight, and taking less exercise. All of these things are known risk factors for several types of cancer. But women are overindulging in unhealthy behaviour too (although not as much), so that’s not the whole story.
Secondly, the report’s authors point the finger at a deeper-rooted issue with the male psyche – the tendency to hide one’s head in the sand when it comes to health matters.Throughout their lives, women tend to have frequent contact with health professionals – for example, when seeking contraception or during pregnancy, birth and child-rearing. This provides opportunities to discuss any worrying symptoms, and to pick up information about cancer prevention and symptoms.
Women are also invited to go for cervical and breast cancer screening at the GP’s surgery or a mobile clinic, providing more opportunities for information and discussion about health. Both men and women can take part in bowel cancer screening, but this test is done at home.In addition, women’s magazines are packed full of messages about health and cancer awareness, such as the heavy coverage of cervical cancer in response to Jade Goody’s story. While there are a number of publications aimed at male health and fitness, health messages for men don’t seem to have reached the level of saturation they have achieved in the female media market.