Geoffrey, a 68-year-old retired teacher, hasn't been to the doctor for five years. 'I only go if there's something wrong with me. Why else would I see him?'

Martin, 29 years old and an accountant, said: 'I've never checked my testicles for lumps. I feel a bit squeamish about touching myself there, and I wouldn't really know what I was looking for.'

These are typical responses from men. Martin had heard of testicular cancer, but believed it affected mainly older men. He was not aware that it is most common in men aged 20 to 34, or that the incidence is increasing, or that one man in 450 is affected.

Geoffrey knew of prostate cancer. He did not know that needing to urinate at regular intervals during the night could be a symptom, or that some 14,000 new cases are detected each year, or that it is the third most common cancer in men, or that early detection is possible through a blood test and digital examination of the rectum.

Though men tend to die nearly six years earlier than women and suffer more serious ill health between the ages of 15 and 64, surprisingly little has been done to encourage them to care better for their bodies. Women's health services may still be too sparse and under-funded, but they appear utopian compared with what is offered to men. 'That's why we've organised Men's Health Day,' says Peter Robinson, a community psychiatric nurse and a member of the East Midlands Men's Health Network, a forum for some 30 men and women in health promotion, social work, drugs services, probation and related fields.

The focus of the Health Day, on 16 September in Derbyshire, will be a conference on men's health. 'We will discuss how to make existing services more attractive, and how to design and develop new services,' says Mr Robinson.

This is the biggest project in the network's four-year history. Mr Robinson and his colleagues hope that up to 200 people will attend the conference, which is part-funded by the Department of Health.

Aids and the Government's 'Health of the Nation' targets are partly responsible for the growing official interest in men's health. Coronary heart disease, for instance, cannot be significantly reduced without effective health promotion among its main victims, men.

For the first time, Dr Kenneth Calman, the Chief Medical Officer, included a chapter on men's health in his last annual report. 'The scope for men to improve their health and prolong active healthy life is considerable,' he concluded. And the Government is supporting a health initiative by Radio 2, starting this month, to provide on-air information and a helpline on male cancers.

Dr Ian Banks, a GP and author of a forthcoming Health Education Authority guide to men's health, says: 'Men are more likely to take risks. They are not supposed to get ill, and if they do, they think they mustn't complain about it. They may delay seeing their doctor, a particular problem among working-class men, a group under more financial pressures not to take time off work. And when they do come to the surgery, they tend to be more evasive and often apologise, before revealing something horrendous.'

He believes that men's access to primary health services could be improved simply by changing surgery hours. 'Current opening times often seem designed to exclude men who work. It's like setting up a restaurant that closes at lunchtime.'

One idea is for employers to provide 'well man' check- ups for staff. The Marie Stopes clinic in London has run schemes for London Transport and the TUC, checking blood pressures, testicles, prostates, urine and cholesterol.

But more innovative projects may also be required. One model is provided at Norfolk Park, one of Sheffield's most deprived housing estates, where a mental health promotion project, funded by the city council and NHS community health trust, runs a Friday morning men's drop- in service from a community centre. The men can play snooker, have a cup of tea and a chat - and talk to a nurse if they wish, though they don't have to.

Men's Health Network and conference: Peter Williamson, 0246 231255. 'The Which? Guide to Men's Health' by Dr Steve Carroll, Consumers' Association ( pounds 9.99).

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