Manning Up

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Man in suit with cape
‘Man up!’ comes the cry at pubs and in football grounds around the country. But neglecting to check your health can cause a multitude of problems for the future

Being bombarded with statistics can boggle and bamboozle even the most attentive person, so we’ll start with a simple one: more than 100,000 men a year die prematurely.

Now we’ve let that sink in, can we give you another? Men visit their GP half as regularly as women. Think the two might be connected?

We’ve managed to move on from the age of the macho man. Our film heroes today are vulnerable and tender, rather than steroid-stuffed robots gunning down anything in sight. Yet we still shy away from confronting anything that could trouble us, and we end up paying the price. Why?

‘Men – particularly in the North East – tend to be a bit stoic,’ says Andrew Johnson, Head of Clinical Services at Spire Washington Hospital. ‘They have reservations going to the GP with urological and bowel problems.’ It’s not just with issues ‘down below’ that men get squeamish: blokes generally are reticent to visit doctors or hospitals. Spire Washington’s contingent of ‘worried well’ who present at the hospital’s doors are more likely to be women than men.

‘The manly approach to health doesn’t help,’ agrees Jonathan Prince, Chairman of men’s health charity the Blue Ribbon Foundation. ‘Men are not brought up to discuss their bodies like women. We don’t menstruate, we don’t grow breasts, so we don’t talk about our bodies and their changes in a group situation.’

Oddly, though, the fact that we don’t grow breasts doesn’t mean we can’t contract breast cancer. Spire Washington produced a breast cancer calendar in the style of the Women’s Institute’s calendar last year. It included a male patient laying in an MRI machine, his breast cancer scars on show. ‘A lot of men would never consider they could get breast cancer,’ says Andrew. ‘They’d check down below but not their chest for lumps.’ It’s all part of the issue: the vast majority of illnesses aren’t specific to a single gender.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation is working to spread the word that current male habits about their health – namely, keeping schtum and hoping for the best – isn’t the most reliable way to stave off ill health. ‘The last thing you say down the pub is: “I’ve got blood in my stool”’, says Jonathan. ‘But perhaps we should be. We’re not being conscious of our own health.’

It’s ironic that at a time when young men are more likely than ever to go to the gym to work on their physical appearance, we still overlook our general health. ‘Gym work doesn’t necessarily relate to what’s on the inside,’ Jonathan explains. ‘The next thing to do is to get them to say: “There’s an inner me to look after, too.”’

Though we’ve managed to shake off the stiff-upper-lipped manliness of the past and embrace emotion, we’ve replaced that inability to confront health issues with a reliance on the internet, rather than talking about it. ‘We’d much rather go on the internet to diagnose ourselves than visit a doctor,’ says Jonathan – and even if we do think there’s something wrong, what he calls the ‘mañana’ approach to health. We simply put it off until tomorrow. ‘The tone of a lot of medical stuff turns men off,’ he says.

But that needs to change, starting here and now. We’ve highlighted four key issues men need to consider, and we’re going to talk simply and honestly about what you need to do. Let’s start the conversation.

Testicular Problems
Every day five British men are diagnosed with testicular cancer, the most common form of cancer for men aged between 20 and 35. Any lump in your testicles needs to be checked out by a GP, though not all are cancerous. Some are harmless, but others can be cysts or torsion that can lead to infertility.

Skin Cancer
Noticed a mole growing, changing colour or shape, or bleeding slightly? Get it checked out. The vast majority of these changes are natural and non-threatening, but it can on occasion be an early sign of skin cancer – and it’s important to catch it early.

Prostate Issues
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer for men in the UK, with more than 30,000 diagnoses per year. Older men should attend regular checkups with their GP to make sure they haven’t contracted the disease. If you’re fearful of the checkup, get a reality check, and consider the alternative.

Impotence and Urinary Issues
Half of all men over 40 have issues with getting and maintaining an erection. It’s important to know you’re not alone, and that there are products out there that can help with impotence and other urinary issues – some of which are by-products of prostate treatment.

Published in: June 2017

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