By Virginia ‘Ginya’ Carnahan, APR, CPRC – Dattoli Cancer Center & Brachytherapy Research Institute
I suppose naming June as Men’s Health Month has something to do with capitalizing on “Father’s Day.” A bit of history: in the mid1860’s Mothers’ Day grew out of post-Civil War efforts to reunited families divided by Union and Confederate sympathies. Fathers’ Day wasn’t thought of until 1908 when a church in Monongah, West Virginia sought to memorialize 362 community men who had died in a mine collapse. In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge urged the nation to observe Fathers’ Day but there was much push-back from groups who considered it an attempt to domesticate manliness with flowers and gifts! Fathers’ Day was not totally legitimized until 1972 when President Richard Nixon made it a legal holiday. Today the event is celebrated on the third Sunday in June in the U.S. – at other times in other places.
Statistics tell us that there are 70 million fathers in the U.S. That’s a lot of Dads – a lot of neckties and outrageous t-shirts, coffee mugs and fishing tackle being gifted to good ole Dad every year. Perhaps a better gift for Dad this year would be to make an appointment for him to have a full physical exam!
An article from WebMD has this subhead: Men die at higher rates than women for all of the top 10 causes of death. Why don’t men take better care of their health?
I have my own opinion of why this disparity persists. First of all as young girls we get indoctrinated into the “take care of your health” routine at puberty when our bodies are changing and preparing for womanhood/motherhood. Young boys do not have such a dramatic rite of passage and usually just assimilate into the macho role of “big and strong and tough,” fueled by Hollywood and Madison Avenue advertising.
So our guys grow into adulthood with very little experience of health care and/or maintenance.
By the way, those top ten causes of death for men and women are, in order: Heart Disease; Cancer; Stroke; Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD); Accidents; Pneumonia and Influenza; Diabetes; Suicide; Kidney Disease; and Chronic Liver Disease/Cirrhosis.
Another important fact: men also die younger than women. In 1920, women only outlived men by 1 year. Today the Centers for Disease Control estimate the life expectancy age gap to be more than 5 years.
Some experts say that men’s health problems don’t so much come from a specific disease but evolve as a result of lack of health care monitoring early in life. Baseline monitoring of such things as blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar in the 20’s can prevent serious disease in the 50’s.
The top five killers of men – heart disease, stroke, suicide, prostate cancer and lung cancer – can all be at least minimized, if not prevented by routine health monitoring and care.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women, but nearly twice as many men die of conditions affecting the cardiovascular system. According to the CDC, one in every four men currently has some form of heart disease … and many of them don’t know it. As men (and women) age, their risk of a heart disease complication rises. The average age of first heart attack in men is 65.8 years, and 70.4 years for women.
Stroke is the third leading cause of death, after heart disease and all cancers. It is 1.25 times greater in men. The important risk factor for stroke is hypertension – high blood pressure. Diagnosing and controlling hypertension early is the most important factor in preventing the onset of stroke. Other risk factors include increasing age, race (African-Americans have greater risk than Caucasians), diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking (including secondhand smoke), physical inactivity, obesity, and alcohol or drug abuse.
Men are four times more likely to commit suicide compared to women. Mental Health professionals attribute much of the blame to underdiagnosed depression in men. It is estimated that more than 6 million men suffer from depression each year. Men experience and display signs of depression in a very different way that women do. Instead of a generalized feeling of sadness, men often react with anger, aggression, “burnout” at work, risktaking behavior, “midlife crises,” and abuse of alcohol and/or drugs.
An increasing number of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) suicides is evidence of the seriousness of depression in our returning troops (primarily men) and the need for family and friends to recognize the signs of behavior that signal a man who needs help. Unfortunately our society’s model of masculinity – be strong, ignore pain, be a “man!” – can work against men.
Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of both men and women, claiming more lives than prostate, colon and breast cancer combined. Each year more than 200,000 new cases of lung cancer in men are diagnosed; and some 160,000 men die of lung cancer each year.
The good news is that the rate of newly diagnosed lung cancer cases has been dropping each year since 1980. The U.S. Surgeon General’s 1964 report on cigarette smoking has taken a long time to impact behavior. Tobacco products are responsible for 90% of all lung cancer cases, and new evidence confirming the negative impact of “second hand smoke” makes cigarettes and cigars two of the most health damaging products in the history of humans.
Cancer of the prostate gland is the most common (non-skin) cancer in men; it is the second deadliest cancer in men. More men are diagnosed with prostate cancer annually than women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Breast cancer claims more lives, however. While there is no currently known specific cause of prostate cancer, it is known that the disease is genetically linked. If the father, uncle, brother or grandfather had prostate cancer, a man’s risk of also developing the disease is increased. The disease is also more prevalent in African-Americans, and is known to occur in a particularly aggressive form in men who had been exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. It does not mean you are off the hook just because there is no history of prostate cancer in the family. The vast majority of prostate cancer cases have no identified cause, other than a random mutation of cells in the gland.
Fortunately, we have discovered a blood antigen that can alert physicians to the probability of prostate cancer. This is key in that the disease otherwise does not usually have any symptoms until it has spread outside the gland. The PSA blood test is recommended annually for all men starting at age 50 (or earlier if there is a family history of prostate cancer) even if the family physician says it is not necessary. If the family doctor does not want to have the PSA test performed, look for free screening events in the community, especially in the month of September as that is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.
The bottom line of this article is this: men can impact their health, especially in later years, by paying attention to it as they mature. Get a thorough physical every few years. Monitor your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Eat a healthy diet of limited meat, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, limited milk products. Get some exercise every day. Stop smoking – and for goodness sake don’t start smoking! Know your family medical history and what genetically influenced health challenges you might face in the future.
Be good! Be well!
Dattoli Cancer Center
1-877-DATTOLI | www.dattoli.com