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Column: Men are at greater risk of getting cancer, and dying from it, than women

The message for older and younger men alike, is to know the value of good health – it is in your hands.

Kevin O’Hagan

THE FIRST DAY of Movember is the perfect time to talk about men’s health and men’s cancers. ‘Irish Man Mark1′ has been around for a long time, but things have changed an awful lot since we first started banging rocks together. For starters, it was hard to get fat when we were always running away from sabre-toothed tigers. Now we are more likely to be sitting in traffic jams going nowhere fast. Even so, men are living longer than ever and, because of that, cancer is becoming our biggest threat.

Last year the Irish Cancer Society launched a report the Excess Burden of Cancer Among Men in the Republic of Ireland 2013. The report showed that men are at greater risk of getting cancer and dying from it than women.

One of the really striking things that the report showed was in the case of melanoma skin cancer. Despite the fact that women were more likely to develop melanoma of the skin, men were more likely to die from the cancer.

Prostate cancer is another good example. It’s the second most common cancer in men in Ireland after skin cancer and Irish men have a 1 in 9 chance of developing prostate cancer in the course of their lifetime. The latest data shows that approximately 3,451 men developed prostate cancer in 2011 and this number is on the increase.

More men in Ireland are diagnosed with prostate cancer than women with breast cancer

We all know someone in our lives who has been affected by breast cancer – mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, aunts. It’s worth remembering that there are more men in Ireland being diagnosed with prostate cancer than women getting breast cancer, yet it doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of awareness and men are much more reluctant to talk about it. Thankfully this is changing and men are realising that you can reduce your risk of getting cancer and with early diagnosis, many can be successfully treated. In fact the five-year survival rate for prostate cancer is over 90%.

Lifestyle factors are part of the reason people get cancer. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, unhealthy diets, higher levels of obesity and lower levels of physical activity are statistically more common among men than women and this leads to an increase in the risk of cancer.

Men are also more likely to put off going to their doctor – leading to late diagnosis and lower survival rates. This can sometimes be because of embarrassment and an attitude that men should be strong and get on with things.

The Irish Cancer Society as part of its new strategy Towards a Future Without Cancer 2013 – 2017 is looking at more innovative and creative ways of engaging with men and developing new programmes so that more people become aware of how they can reduce their risk of cancer.

Know your body

We have set up a dedicated Men’s Health section on our website and we are continuing to develop our range of cancer information services available to men. We have recently published a manual for men “Destination Health” which sets out clear concise directions for men on cancer prevention. We have provided awareness presentations to men involved in the Mens Sheds Association and are working with the Men’s Health Forum to deliver training and promote Men’s Health Week. We have worked with the Department of Health and Children to support the implementation of the National Men’s Health Policy and will continue to advocate for public health policies that can improve the health of men in Ireland today.

There is a lot of work to be done. The message for older and younger men alike, is to know the value of good health, it is in your hands. Exercise more, eat a balanced diet, don’t smoke and drink less alcohol. Get informed about risk factors of cancer, know your body, look out for any unusual changes and to take action. Early detection and treatment can greatly increase your chances of beating cancer.

If men want to receive a free copy of the manual for men “Destination Health” please contact our helpline 1800 200 700

If you want to help change the face of men’s health – why not grow a moustache this Movember, do something proactive for your health or start a conversation and spread awareness of men’s cancer.

Kevin O’Hagan, Health Promotion Manager, Irish Cancer Society

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About the author:

Kevin O’Hagan

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