Men leave it too late to seek medical help: Fear of being seen as weak or 'sissy' can shorten lives

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MEN KNOW more about women's health problems than they do about their own and their reluctance to go to the doctor can shorten their lives, campaigners said yesterday.

Fear of being seen as weak or 'sissy', being embarrassed and feeling stupid were all given as reasons for men's unwillingness to get medical help, even though they can leave it too late to be cured.

Mr Mark Speakman, consultant urologist at Taunton and Somerset NHS Trust, said that by the time he saw them, 40 per cent of his patients with cancer of the prostate had advanced disease and half of the patients he saw with other prostate problems had already developed complications.

'I have to deal with so many patients in the late stages of disease,' he said at the launch of a male health initiative in London yesterday. He said there were no statistics which compared male and female outcomes of cancers, based on how soon they sought treatment. 'Men have a life expectancy that is five years less than women but they are reluctant to see their GPs and their knowledge of health problems is poorer than that of women.

'About 1,000 young men get cancer of the testes a year and if caught early it is curable. But the average time for finding the problem from symptoms is five months, and this is a disgrace,' he said.

The new campaign is sponsored by the pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp & Dohme, which has spent pounds 150,000 on promoting male health since September 1992. Yesterday a booklet, Men in Focus, was launched aimed at giving men straightforward information about common health problems.

Mori surveys of more than 4,000 men and women over the age of 15, released yesterday, showed that only 4 per cent of men knew 'much' about enlargement of the prostate gland and only 16 per cent knew 'more than a little' about testicular cancer. But 25 per cent of men knew 'a great deal' or 'a fair amount' about pre-menstrual tension and 29 per cent felt they were well informed about women's breast cancer.

There was little difference between men and women in what they knew of general health when asked about asthma, diabetes, heart disease and lung cancer.

Four out of five men acknowledged that they took too long to seek medical attention. The surveys found that 49 per cent of men said they wanted to know more about male problems compared with 58 per cent of women wanting more information about women's problems.

Dr Hilary Jones, a GP and 'TV doctor', said that although heart disease and strokes were still a major killer of men, better attention to their own health could have an impact on the difference in life expectancy between men and women.