Date Published: 15 June 2009
Men hit by 'inexplicable' greater cancer death risk
Men are almost 40% more likely than women to die from cancer, reveals a report published today (Monday) by the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) and Cancer Research UK together with the Men's Health Forum to mark Men's Health Week.
And they are 16% more likely to develop the disease in the first place.
After excluding breast cancer and cancers specific to one or other sex from the analysis, the difference is even greater – with men being almost 70% more likely to die from cancer and over 60% more likely to develop the disease.
The researchers then looked at the figures, excluding lung cancer as well, because the disease and its main risk factor, smoking, is known to be more common in men.
They expected to see that, across the broad range of remaining cancer types, men and women were just as likely as each other to die from and get the disease.
But they found that for all of these cancers combined, men were still 70% more likely than women to die from cancer and 60% more likely to get cancer.
Experts suggest that a possible explanation for the differences seen for some types of cancer could be down to stereotypical male behaviour – like down playing important early symptoms and having an unhealthy lifestyle.
Professor David Forman, information lead for the NCIN, said:
"For many of the types of cancer we looked at that affect both sexes, there's no known biological reason why men should be at a greater risk than women, so we were surprised to see such consistent differences.
After taking out the effect of age, men were significantly more likely than women to die from every one of the specific types of cancer considered and, apart from melanoma, they were also significantly more likely to develop the disease.
Men have a reputation for having a 'stiff upper lip' and not being as health-conscious as women.
What we see from this report could be a reflection of this attitude, meaning men are less likely to make lifestyle changes that could reduce their risk of the disease and less likely to go to their doctor with cancer symptoms. Late diagnosis makes most forms of the disease harder to treat."
The report looked at the number of cancer deaths in the UK in 2007 and the number of new cases of cancer in 2006, broken down by cancer type.
The cancers that were not sex-specific were grouped together and the researchers then looked at the ratio of men to women in each category.
Professor Alan White, Professor of Men's Health at Leeds Metropolitan University and Chair of the Men's Health Forum, said:
"The evidence shows that men are generally not aware that, as well as smoking, carrying excess weight around the waist, having a high alcohol intake and a poor diet and their family history all contribute to their increased risk of developing and dying prematurely from cancer, but more research needs to be done before we can be sure exactly why this gender gap exists.
This report clearly demonstrates that a concerted effort needs to be made into getting the public, the health professionals and the policy makers aware of the risks men are facing. Many of these deaths could be avoided by changes in lifestyle and earlier diagnosis."
Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK, said:
"We know that around half of all cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle and it's worrying that this message could be falling on deaf ears for men.
Importantly, for many cancers, the disease is more likely to be treated successfully if caught early. Delays in reporting symptoms to a doctor could be helping to fuel this gender gap in cancer mortality.
Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health are key players in the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative (NAEDI), part of which aims to understand the reasons why people put off telling their GP about cancer symptoms and how to overcome them.
This report tells us that NAEDI could make a real difference to understanding why cancer outcomes for men are so different."
Professor Mike Richards, National Cancer Director said:
"As part of NAEDI, the Department and the Football Foundation are joint funding an 'Ahead of the Game' programme to promote early presentation. This one-year pilot programme, will use the appeal of football to raise awareness of lung, bowel and prostate cancers in men aged 55 and over, and selected football clubs across the country will receive funding to target local men over 55 and raise cancer awareness.
Recently the Department of Health and the NHS Cancer Screening Programme agreed to provide funding for the Bobby Moore Fund 'There's Moore to Know' campaign on bowel cancer.
Through these new approaches we hope to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of cancer, and encourage men with symptoms to seek help earlier."
Source: Cancer Research UK.