Men are 40 per cent more likely to die of cancer than women, and 16 per cent more likely to get it in the first place, said a report released Monday by leading cancer research organizations that looked at figures for cancer deaths in the UK.

Timed to coincide with Men’s Health Week, the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) and Cancer Research UK, also released figures that showed after excluding breast cancer and cancers that only affect one sex, the difference between men and women was even greater, with men being about 70 per cent more likely to die from cancer than women and over 60 per cent more likely to develop it in the first place.

Even when they excluded lung cancer, which removes the counfounder introduced by the fact more men smoke than women, the underlying figures were the same.

The remaining cancers that were included in the analysis were cancers of the oesophagus, stomach, colorectal, liver, pancreas, kidney, bladder, brain and central nervous system (CNS), non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, malignant melanoma, multiple myeloma and leukaemia.

The researchers expected to see that men were equally as likely to die from these cancers as women, but what they found was men were still 70 per cent more likely to die than women and 60 per cent more likely to develop the diseases in the first place.

The researchers said more research was needed to understand the gap, but speculated it could be behavioural: perhaps men have unhealthier lifestyles and they either don’t notice early cancer symptoms, or they are more reluctant to deal with them, whereas women tend to notice them earlier and don’t delay in going to the doctor about them.

Alan White, Professor of Men’s Health at Leeds Metropolitan University and Chair of the Men’s Health Forum, said in a statement:

“The evidence shows that men are generally not aware that, as well as smoking, carrying excess weight around the waist, having a high alcohol intake and a poor diet and their family history all contribute to their increased risk of developing and dying prematurely from cancer, but more research needs to be done before we can be sure exactly why this gender gap exists.”

He said the report clearly shows that we need to try much harder to get the public, health professionals and the people who make the policies to understand the risks that men face.

“Many of these deaths could be avoided by changes in lifestyle and earlier diagnosis,” said White.

Professor David Forman of the NCIN told the press that:

“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.”

“After taking out the effect of age, men were significantly more likely than women to die from every one of the specific types of cancer considered and, apart from melanoma, they were also significantly more likely to develop the disease,” he said.

“Men have a reputation for having a ‘stiff upper lip’ and not being as health-conscious as women,” said Forman, adding that the report could be reflecting this attitude. This is unfortunate because late diagnosis makes most forms of cancer harder to treat, he said.

For the report the authors looked at cancer deaths in the UK for 2007 and new cases categorized by cancer type for 2006.

They summed cancer cases that were not sex-specific and then looked at male and female ratios in each category.

Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK, said that delays in reporting symptoms to the doctor could be a reason for the gap.

“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,” she added.

Cancer Research UK, the Department of Health and other concerned organizations are running a programme called the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative (NAEDI) to try and understand why people don’t go to the doctor as soon as they detect early signs of cancer, and to find ways to persuade them to do so.

One of the initiatives under NAEDI is a one-year pilot programme with the Football Foundation called “Ahead of the Game” which will use the appeal of football to raise awareness of lung, bowel and prostate cancers in men aged 55 and over. A number of football clubs around the UK will get extra money to help them raise cancer awareness in local men over 55.

Another scheme that the Department of Health and NHS Screening Programme is supporting financially is the “There’s Moore to Know” campaign to raise awareness of bowel cancer. The campaign is run by the The Bobby Moore Fund, the foundation established in the name of the well known and liked footballer and former England captain who died of bowel cancer in 1993 at the age of 51.

Source: Cancer Research UK.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD