Thursday, January 27, 2011

The problem with breasts

(That's not a headline I ever imagined writing.)

Breast cancer awareness-raising has been brilliant. Every female this side of Venus knows all about it (and most blokes this side of Mars). It is estimated that screening saves about 1,000 lives a year.

High fives all round? Not exactly. A lot of women have become the worried well. Breast cancer remains rare among young women - 4 in every 5 breast cancers are diagnosed in women aged 50 and over. But you wouldn't know that from the media coverage or to hear some folk talk about the disease. It is one of women's major health fears despite the fact that 96% of them will die of something else - heart disease or another cancer probably. (A 2005 survey in the USA found it was the biggest fear of all: Women's Health Fears Often Don't Line Up With Reality)

Inspired by this, some campaigners have tried to get the prostate to do for men's health what the breast did for women's. Instead of pix of pouting beauties cue images of handsome hunks. This has been pretty successful - look at the excellent Movember. But is there a danger of men's health being seen as all about the bits just as women's health now is? Both are partial and dangerous pictures. Smoking is the biggest killer whether you've nice boobs, a cute prostate, neither or both.

Chris Hiley, a woman who used to work for the Prostate Cancer Charity, understands these issues better than most. In her blog Breasts are a poor vehicle for women’s health: might men’s health now turn to bollocks, too? she puts her finger on the problem.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Would you like to email your doctor?

Personally, I'm not optimistic about the planned NHS reforms. They strike me as ideological rather than about patient care. It's hard to believe the new arrangements will lead to anything other than the further privatisation of much NHS provision either in the short or - in the optimistic scenario - medium term.

But there is possibly one bright note - at least as far as men's health concerned: developing the use of the internet. I'm not talking about gimmicks for mobile phones or little online gadgets to tell you how long you'll live, I'm talking about using the potential of the web to deliver real services: booking appointments, collecting test results, storing records and communications with various health professionals in one place.

Of course security is an issue and the government don't have a great track record here but it must be worth exploring. It seems to me it will make things easier for two categories of patients, particularly: the busy ones who don't consult health professionals often enough and those with long-term and multiple medical issues who otherwise have to consult them too much. What do you think? Tell us in the latest malehealth snap survey.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The real meaning of this study of death

Fascinating stuff on death - always popular with the men's health activist. New research seeking to help answer the question 'why men do die younger than women?' suggests that in the UK about 59% of the gap is down to smoking and 19% to booze. The implication is that men's poorer access to health services - whatever the reason - is not a major factor. This is not so. You can't compare chalk and cheese. Access is not a cause of death in the way that smoking is. Prompt access - seeing your doctor sooner rather than later as women tend to - may mean your smoking-related cancer is cured and you live to die another day from another cause, late access may not.

No, what this research really shows is that the gender death divide is very, very largely about social issues not biological ones. This was a European study and the excess in male deaths varied considerably from 188 per 100,000 of the population a year in Iceland to 942 per 100,000 in Ukraine. Men are biologically much the same in both countries but their behaviour is not. Smoking may be on the decline but I'm sure we men will come up with another way to kill ourselves prematurely - work, for example.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Who really benefits from the 'man flu' jibes?

Happy new year everyone. Apologies for the lack of posts but yes, I've had 'flu. Was it 'man flu'? I don't think so and I'm sure my girlfriend who also had it - worse than me - would agree.

However, the suspicion remains that men make a lot of fuss about nothing. Do we? Frankly I couldn't care less. What does worry me is that men already visit the doctors less than women and the fear of looking like whinging malingerers might deter them further. Our snap survey on the latest Boots advert suggests that many of you agree - although perhaps not for the same reasons.

Much excitement in many news outlets including the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail about a survey suggesting South Korean men 'overrate' the symptoms of a cold. Maybe - but the key point may be found in the final buried paragraphs where the researchers suggest Korean men might get more colds than women because they tend to be the main bread winners, and hence 'may experience higher levels of work-related strerrors'.

The Mail then quotes Dr Olivia Carlton, president of the Society of Occupational Medicine who describea the findings were a wake-up call for employers and Dr John Hobson, editor of the scientific journal Occupational Medicine who says men with colds 'may be under work-related stress, which is something that an employer or manager may be able to do something about.'

Indeed, conspiracy theorists might suggest the whole 'man flu' business is an employers' ruse to get us all into the office when the real issue at this time of economic difficulty is stress at work.