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It is well known that biological sex is an important factor in certain types of cancer. Obvious cancers that fall into this category are breast, prostate, uterine, and cervical cancer. These depend on sex-specific organs, as well as hormone levels, that vary between men and women. A previous Oncobites article discussed how biological sex is important in brain cancer, but what about cancer in general?
Surprisingly, biological males are more likely to both develop and die from cancer. A study in the UK found that men are 16% more likely than women to develop cancer and 40% more likely to die from cancer. This study excludes the typical gender-based cancers. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) found that the cancer mortality rate for men in 196.8 per 100,000 men and 139.6 per 100,000 for women. This becomes even worse when looking at African American men, who have the highest mortality rate (239.9 per 100,000). This trend seems to be true across multiple cancer types. For example, in 2018, the National Cancer Research Institute found that skin cancer deaths were rising for men alone and men are more likely to be diagnosed with liver cancer. So with all of this information, do we know why this is occuring?
Although some of these statistics may be due to actual genetic differences between men and women, this is not always true. It turns out that one reason that men may be diagnosed with cancer more than women is that men are more likely to engage in risky behavior. For example, men are much more likely to use tobacco than women. According to the Word Health Organization (WHO) around 40% of men smoke compared to only 9% of women. Men are also more likely to drink excessively. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that men are twice as likely to binge drink than women and have higher rates of alcohol-related deaths compared to women. Tobacco and alcohol consumption are two major risk factors for the development of multiple types of cancers.
Although this risky behavior could explain why more men are diagnosed with cancer compared to women, why is the mortality rate higher? This may have a two-part answer. The first aspect is that men have less contact with physicians than women. In general, men are less likely to go to the doctor compared to women. This is because women are often required to visit a doctor’s office regularly out of necessity. Renewal of birth control prescriptions, cervical cancer screening, and pregnancy are just some of the times women have to see a doctor, whereas men do not. In addition to the required visits, men are less likely to visit the doctor when something actually goes wrong. And when men finally do see a doctor, they are more likely to downplay the severity of the symptoms. This “Macho Mentality” can delay cancer diagnosis and treatment, which ultimately leads to a higher mortality rate.
In conclusion, men are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer, which is likely to be caused by increased risky behavior. Men are then less likely to be diagnosed in the early stages of cancer development due to less contact with physicians, as well as a decreased likelihood to see a doctor when symptoms do occur. All of this has led to the cancer mortality rate in men being higher than women. With this information, it is paramount that we begin encouraging men to schedule regular doctor visits. Many organizations are trying to address this issue, for example the Cleveland Clinic has a campaign targeting men called MENtion it, which encourages men to go to their doctor and talk about issues they are having. This is a preventable phenomenon and with proper education, we can reduce the number of unnecessary cancer related deaths in men.
Image Credit: http://www.mci.ge/en/gender-equality/
Edited by: Rachel Cherney