Dear Mr. Dad. My husband’s father had several heart attacks and recently died of prostate cancer. That means he’s in a high risk group and should have regular physicals and screenings. But despite having good insurance, he refuses to make an appointment. I’m worried about him—and our 13-year old son who’s already modeling his behavior on his daddy’s. What can I do?
A: Unfortunately, your husband is far from alone. From the time we’re little boys, we’re conditioned to believe that we’re bulletproof and that showing pain is a sign of weakness. It’s that whole “big boys don’t cry” thing. No wonder only about half as many men as women have a regular physician, and men make one fourth the number of doctor visits.
The results of this lackadaisical attitude are startling: We’re twice as likely to die of heart, lung, and liver diseases. We’re forty percent more likely to die of cancer and 20 percent more likely to die of a stroke. In 1920, women outlived men by an average of one year. Today it’s almost seven.
If men suddenly started going to the doctor would they live longer? Couldn’t hurt. But in a recent study, nearly 70 percent of men over 40 who visited the doctor weren’t even asked whether they had a family history of prostate cancer. And 40 percent of men over 50—who should be getting a prostate exam every single year—weren’t even screened by their doctors.
What can you do?
- Learn about male-specific health problems. And share the facts with your husband and son. By encouraging them to take even the smallest symptoms seriously and discuss them with their doctors, you’ll help them take an active role in their own health care. You may even save a life.
- Encourage Congress to make men’s health a public priority. Healthcare is on everyone’s front burner these days. But many of the options being considered fly in the face of laws in more than 36 states that now require private insurers to provide a number of critical services to men, including screening tests for prostate cancer. In those states alone, 35 million men ages 40-64 would lose their right to understand their potential for risk of the most prevalent form of cancer in men. In addition, prostate cancer claims nearly the same number of lives each year as breast cancer and has the same survival rate if caught early. But breast cancer researchers receive over twice as much funding as those fighting prostate cancer. That’s just not fair.
- Support an Office of Men’s Health. Women’s health has been a national priority for decades and the results have been spectacular. We created Offices of Women’s Health at the NIH, the Departments of HHS, Justice, and Labor, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Center for Disease Control. Millions of women’s lives have been saved and quality of life improved for many more. But what about the tens of thousands of men who every year suffer and die needless—and entirely preventable—deaths? And let’s not forget that four times as many men commit suicide as women and men account for 75 percent of violent crime victims, 80 percent of the homeless, and 94 percent of workplace-related fatalities. Still, not a single Office of Men’s Health exists anywhere. Such an Office would provide essential advice about the health care needs of men and boys and would ensure that they have the information and access to services necessary to remain healthy, productive members of society.
For more information on men’s health issues, visit menshealthnetwork.org