It is another example of the Convenient Lie which condemns thousands of men to an early and unnecessary death. The report ignores international data from impeccable sources such as Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support.
Men are 16% more likely to get cancer and 37% more likely to die from cancer. When gender specific cancers are excluded, men are 60% more likely to get it and 70% more likely to die from it. It is not in dispute that at least some of the gaping gender gulf is down to lifestyle and habits, but lifestyle alone does not explain the gender difference in cancer rates. There is no biological reason why men get cancer more often than women.
The five most common cancers in Ireland are, non-melanoma skin cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, bowel cancer and lung cancer. National screening exists for breast cancer, cervical cancer and was recently introduced for bowel cancer for the over sixties. No man under the age of sixty is screened for any type of cancer in Ireland.
The state spend on cancer screening for men under the age of sixty is zero.
Women are almost twice as likely to be alive 10 years after a cancer diagnosis. Part of the reason for this is that breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women and long term survival rates can be as high as 80%. Prostate cancer survival rates are much lower, typically 65%. The amount spent on research for breast cancer per case is almost twice that of the amount spent on the biggest male killer, prostate cancer. Research for male specific cancers is chronically underfunded compared to female specific cancer research. The Inconvenient Truth is that twice the research funding results in twice the survival rates.
The other reason cited for poor survival rates in men is the 'reluctance' of men to seek timely medical intervention. Again this is a Convenient Lie. UK researchers examined the link between how healthy people thought they were and their death rate. The results showed that women are more likely to think that their health is poor or fair compared to men. 'Reluctance' is not the issue - Lack of Awareness about their health is the Uncomfortable Truth as to why men are slow to seek medical intervention. Steve Field, Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said 'The message for the health system is that it should try harder to make it easier for men to access healthcare through suitable hours, venues and phone or computer consultations'. MPs in the UK warned that men with prostate cancer receive far worse care that women with breast cancer.
In 2009 the All Parliamentary Group on Cancer said that treatment for men with cancer was less prompt and they were not offered as much support. Having battled cancer for 4 years myself, I can say without hesitation that the support for men with cancer is practically non existent. It is an attitude that is deeply embedded in our society. There is an expectation that men should just get on with it. Cancer support centre attendees are approximately 80% female. Some of the blame lies with men for not reaching out, but much of the problem is an inability to engage men when they do look for help. Aroma therapy and Reiki are not going to get men through the door.
The report from the Irish Cancer Society is insulting to men. Imagine the outcry if women were told that breast cancer was their own fault. The Inconvenient Truth behind the shocking survival and fatality rates of men with cancer is that as a society we spend more, care more and value women's lives more than we do men's lives.
I will be returning to this subject.