Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dying of embarrassment

Some worrying research results yesterday highlighted the differences in the way men and women react to the suspicion of cancer - that is, whether they hie themselves off to the GP within hours of spotting the lump/bump/lesion, or whether they instead burrow their heads even more firmly into the sand.

No criticism here. Fear, which must surely be the key motivator, is a powerful paralyser. And if men - for yes they are the ones doing the sand-burrowing - are terrified, then that's utterly understandable.

It is, however, also tragic. The abovementioned research, brought out to coincide with Men's Health Week, suggests that there is no biological reason why men are 60% more likely to develop cancer and 70% more likely to die from it - particularly from the gender-specific, sexually-linked types of cancer such as prostate and testicular. Yes, there are major lifestyle causes. but the high mortality rate is also down to an unwillingness to acknowledge symptoms, take them seriously and then report them.

It comes as no surprise that this unwillingness is higher when it comes to the gender-specific cancers - because the emotional discomfort factor is so much higher there. I know this myself - for every 20 letters I receive from women asking me to advise on sexual problems I get perhaps one from a man. A mixture of anxiety, machismo and shame is holding the guys back.
Men are, literally, dying of embarrassment.

The answer? Professor Alan White of the Men's Health Forum puts his finger on it when he appeals for health services to be more male-appropriate. And that doesn't just mean more available outside working hours - but more encouraging, more motivating, and more aware of y chromosome reluctance.

I am inexorably reminded of that classic self-development question: which do you choose to be, the rabbit or the headlights? Let's hope that by next year's Men's Health Week, men are beginning to choose the latter option...

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