Page last updated at 06:57 GMT, Monday, 15 June 2009 07:57 UK

Men warned of greater cancer risk

Obese men
An unhealthy lifestyle may be to blame for the gender divide

The reluctance of men to adopt a healthy lifestyle and visit the doctor may be fuelling a gender gap in cancer cases and deaths, experts say.

Among cancers which affect both sexes, men are 60% more likely to develop the disease and 70% more likely to die from it, Cancer Research UK said.

There is no known biological reason for this but it may be because women take better care of themselves, they said.

Experts said men needed to be made aware of the risks they faced.

It is thought half of all cancers can be prevented through lifestyle changes.

For the latest report, published to coincide with Men's Health Week, researchers first analysed data on all cancers from 2006 and 2007.

Delays in reporting symptoms to a doctor could be helping to fuel this gender gap in cancer mortality
Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK

They found that overall men are 40% more likely than women to die from cancer and 16% more likely to develop the disease in the first place.

But excluding breast cancer and cancers that are gender specific, as well as lung cancer which is more likely to affect men because more men smoke, the difference between the sexes was far greater.

Lung: 24% of all cancer deaths
Prostate: 13%
Colorectal: 10%
Oesophagus: 6%
Pancreas: 5%

The researchers had expected to see that men and women are just as likely as each other to develop and die from the disease.

However, the figures showed that men are significantly more likely than women to be diagnosed with and die from every one of the specific types of cancer considered, apart from melanoma.

'Surprise result'

Professor David Forman, information lead for the National Cancer Intelligence Network, which helped carry out the research, 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."


He added: "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."

We have to look very much more at how we change the services so they are more male appropriate
Professor Alan White

Professor Alan White, chairman of the Men's Health Forum, said men were generally less aware that factors such as smoking, carrying excess weight around the waist, having a high alcohol intake, a poor diet and family history all contributed to an increased cancer risk.

However, he said more research was needed on the causes of the gender gap and services needed to do more to reach out to men.

Professor White told the BBC: "Men have got a certain degree of responsibility to look to their lifestyle, but the services also have to be reaching out to men.

"If you think that nearly 14m men work full-time and of those 28% are working over 45 hours, then getting to the services is actually very problematic.

"And it's not just the GP, it's smoking cessation services, it's weight loss services.

'Get it checked'

"We have to look very much more at how we change the services so they are more male appropriate.

"I think if you are suffering from something and it's not going away, then get it checked out. That's the simple message."

The government's cancer tsar, Professor Mike Richards, said there was no doubt of the gravity of the findings.

Men are more reluctant to visit the doctor and monitor themselves for signs of illness
Julie, London

Prof Richards told the BBC: "I agree with Professor White that the scale of this has come as a surprise even to researchers.

"There seems to be no doubt - there is a higher risk of getting cancer and a higher risk of death.

"That maybe due to different ways of approaching the health services and being less likely to seek help.

"We certainly need to make men aware of these risks, of the lifestyle factors."

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.

"Delays in reporting symptoms to a doctor could be helping to fuel this gender gap in cancer mortality."

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