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The rise in prostate cancer deaths is not down to gender bias – here’s why

A study found that men in Britain visited their GP four times a year compared to six for women. They also visited pharmacies four times a year – for women the number was 18

James Moore
Saturday 03 February 2018 12:50 GMT
Prostate cancer is now the third deadliest form the of the disease in the UK
Prostate cancer is now the third deadliest form the of the disease in the UK (Shutterstock)

The framing of the story about the number of men dying from prostate cancer outstripping the number of women dying from breast cancer in Britain for the first time made me want to tear what remains of my hair out.

One notable tabloid (guess which, but no prizes) produced a brightly coloured graphic showing that while breast cancer gets pots of cash prostate cancer is the poor relation, with the obvious subtext that men are being discriminated against.

As someone whose family has a melancholy experience of the latter (my grandfather died from it and I’ve had a scare) but not the former, this sort of thing needs to stop. Right now.

Frankly, I’m delighted that cash is being spent on research into breast cancer. I’ll happily put some of mine in the collecting jar next time it comes around. I’m disturbed to see Baroness Blyth Morgan of Breast Cancer Now stating that progress on the disease is stalling.

You should be too.

If you’re not, get lost. I’m not interested in you. Your morality is diseased.

Now, if you want to talk about finding better ways to treat the other killer, and making sure the fight against it gets the funding it needs, I’m all ears.

Instead of setting up a false competition between men’s health issues and women’s health issues, how about we do that? How about we fight both?

That might be easier if it weren’t for, well, men.

I regularly write about disability, and that includes tackling some of the many medical issues I’ve had to deal with (when you get run over by a truck you end up with a few).

But I have to admit, when it was suggested that I write a piece about prostate cancer, I at first tried to think about the best way of getting out of it.

God damn, give me some politics already. Or some business. Some sport?

Just writing the word “prostate” is kind of difficult. Prostate. Prostate, prostate, prostate (shudders). And that’s before we get into a discussion of the symptoms (fear not, I’m not going to go there).

I was told by a female colleague that women tend to be very different, that they are more comfortable talking about medical stuff, even the embarrassing stuff men like to refer to as “women’s problems”. They have no issue with visiting the doctor when they need to (with exceptions, of course), and they tend to be healthier as a result. The live longer too. It’s not just because they have two copies of the X chromosome when we have just the one.

The research data reinforces that.

A 2014 survey for the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention found men were half as likely to go to the doctor over a two-year period. A study by the National Pharmacy Association in 2012 found that men in Britain visited their GPs four times a year compared to six for women. They also visited pharmacies four times a year. For women the number was 18.

Needless to say, men are also less likely to be honest when they get to their GP surgery. We are just not comfortable with these conversations.

I regularly meet up for a drink with a friend who, like me, has disabilities. Medical issues are a big part of both of our lives. But we don’t often talk about them. We talk about, politics, business and some sports. We also talk about movies, books and TV. We rip on each other, and sometimes on some of our mutual acquaintances. Our medical issues? Yes they crop up. But rarely.

If two men whom you might think would be immune to the awkwardness struggle to converse about matters medical then what hope does anyone else have?

In researching this piece I quite liked a quote that Mike Shallcross gave to The Guardian in 2009 while the deputy editor of Men’s Health. He explained that women have a healthier relationship with their bodies, seeing going to the doctor as a question of maintenance. Men, by contrast, think in terms of repair, seeking to fix something only when it has burned out as one would with a car. The sad thing is while some men obsess over cars, treating ourselves like them is a wonderful way to crash.

If you are looking for a reason for why prostate cancer is the poor relation to breast cancer, it might just be because men treat their health like a poor relation generally. And I’m as guilty as anyone. As I write this a set of blood testing forms are glaring evilly up at me from my desk. Perhaps we should all of us, you know, man up.

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