Surprise: Men Get These Diseases, Too
It’s hard to escape gender labeling in our society. Dolls and the color pink are associated with girls, while guys are assigned GI Joes and the “manly” color blue. And the trend doesn’t stop at childhood, either. It trickles down to matters of health as well. But in reality, men can face the same challenges when they develop a disease more common in women.
Men may be less likely to get these diseases than women are, but that doesn’t mean the danger–and the need for preventative measures–isn’t there.
Breast Cancer: One Man Per 108 Women
All of us are born with breast tissue. Women tend to have more of it, thanks to hormones, which is one reason why their breast cancer rates are higher. But men are at risk, too. In 2009, the American Cancer Society determined that 1,910 men would be diagnosed and 440 would die from invasive breast cancer. The potential causes are similar between men and women–excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, high estrogen levels (in men, this could be the result of Klinefelter’s syndrome or cirrhosis), genetic predisposition, and so on. Breast cancer is most common among men aged sixty to seventy.
Doctors used to believe that men were less likely than women to survive breast cancer, but their survival rates are about the same. The National Cancer Institute thinks the mistaken belief was due to men’s not being screened for the disease earlier in life (as women are with mammograms), which means their diagnoses often happen at later, and more terminal, cancer stages.
Lupus: One Man Per Nine Women
For centuries, doctors have known that autoimmune diseases are more common in women. The difference might be due to the way estrogen levels affect the immune system in women and men.
Among young people, lupus affects females especially heavily. In the 50s and beyond, women still account for most cases, but men start to catch up. Older patients tend to be more concerned that they’ve developed a disease that pops up more in women. A 19 year-old man with lupus may not care, per se, but the 55 year-old men may be a bit more traditional. Sometimes there’s a bit of reticence or embarrassment on their part over the diagnosis.
Men tend to have more serious cases of the disease than women, and it’s often especially severe in young men. However, men typically respond as well to treatments – which are mostly the same for men and women — and the risk of death from the disease is similar.
Osteoporosis: One Man Per Four Women
Look at any advertisement for calcium supplements or osteoporosis treatment, and it’s obvious who’s being targeted–namely, not men. While it’s true that women are more prone to weakened bones, the National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that two million men have it currently, while twelve million more are at risk. Women have smaller frames, which give them less to work with as calcium depletion rises with age. But while women are often tested for bone density around menopause because their hormonal changes make bones more fragile, men aren’t until something major happens, like a fracture.
Men die more from hip fractures than women (31 percent, compared with 17 percent), partly because their fractures tend to happen later in life, and partly because the disease progresses unchecked so for long, severely damaging their frames. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, 6 percent of men will have hip fractures by age fifty. Age isn’t the only trigger, though. Lifestyle habits like smoking, drinking too much alcohol, and getting little to no exercise, as well as certain medications (for example, those that contain steroids, like asthma medication), ethnicity, and family history, are all possible risk factors.
HPV, or human papillomavirus, has serious implications for women’s health because of certain strains’ link to cervical cancer. However, studies have found that men get this so-called women’s disease just as much as women do. In fact, almost all sexually active people of both sexes will get it at some point. And while men can’t get cervical cancer, they’re vulnerable to several other HPV-linked cancers, even moreso than women. Specifically, studies done at Ohio State University found a link between HPV and throat cancer in men. These findings have led to recent recommendations for boys as well as girls to get the HPV vaccine to protect men’s health.