Leading Article: A body zone that men should worry about

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The Independent Online
MEN are as well informed as women about general health problems, such as asthma and heart disease. But they are less knowledgeable about specifically male scourges, for example testicular cancer and enlarged prostate glands, than about conditions affecting women, such as breast cancer and pre-menstrual tension. That is one of the findings of a Mori poll which we report today.

There are various possible explanations for this. The ones favoured by the specialists who presented the poll's findings are that women are more aware than men of their own bodies, happier to talk about their medical symptoms, and visit their GP more frequently (often in connection with pregnancy or their children). Men, by contrast, have a macho image to live up to, and are frightened of revealing their feelings and anxieties.

If that is the case, it may be asked, why are men as well informed as women about general health problems? The truth is surely slightly more complicated. Testicular cancer tends to occur in men in their late teens or twenties, a not very health-conscious age during which accidents are the commonest cause of male deaths. Prostate problems strike mainly those in their mid-to-late fifties and older. By that stage many men may find it hard to distinguish between symptoms of ageing and genuine genito-urinary problems.

Partly because it is women who bear children, their health is monitored more intensively and subject to more widespread analysis in newspapers and women's magazines, which are also read by men.

None the less, and with all due deference to unsung legions of male hypochondriacs, there is clearly a strong case for raising the consciousness of men and women alike about specifically male health problems, especially those in the genital area. Doctors should encourage check-ups, and men's magazines should devote more space to these real concerns.

Given that the annual death toll from prostate and cervical cancer is 9,000 and 2,500 respectively, it is extraordinary that so much more is done to protect women than men from those particular dangers. Men need to know what symptoms to look for. If women are also aware of them, creating a zone of mutual concern, there will be a still better chance of treatment before it is, as so often at present, too late.