The fact that men are more likely than women to both develop and die from cancer has been covered by most of the media today.
The news is based on a report highlighting the excess cancer burden in men (both in terms of cases and deaths), and was produced by Cancer Research UK, the Men’s Health Forum and the National Cancer Intelligence Network.
The results of the report were widely and accurately reported in the media.
The report found that men are at significantly greater risk of both developing and dying from cancer, and the difference in risk increased further when breast and sex-specific cancers, for example cervical or prostate cancer, were excluded.
The reasons for the increased risk in men compared to women are unknown.
Biological differences between men and women may be part of the explanation, as could differences in social factors that determine the risk of developing cancer, such as smoking. Another theory, as many journalists speculated in their reporting, is that men may be less likely to seek diagnosis for the early signs of cancer than women.
Current advice, applicable to both men and women, is to maintain a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of developing cancer and to visit your doctor if you notice any unusual or persistent change in your body, such as changes in bowel habits, difficulties swallowing, or a persistent cough.
What are the main findings of the report?
More men than women are diagnosed with cancer.
- In 2010, 163,904 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in men, compared to 160,675 cases in women in the UK (cases of non-melanoma skin cancer were excluded from all calculations). This corresponds to an incidence of 426 cases of cancer per 100,000 men compared to 374 cases per 100,000 women, after adjusting for age (women tend to live longer than men, so there are more older women in the UK population). By comparing the incidences in men and women, it can be seen that men have a 14% greater risk of developing a type of cancer.
- However, in the 15 to 64 age group, women were more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than men. This effect seemed predominantly due to breast and sex-specific cancers, because if breast and sex-specific cancers were excluded (for example, cancers that affect the genital organs), the increased risk of cancer in men of all ages increased further, and was greater than that for women in the 15 to 64 age group. Men of all ages were 56% more likely to develop cancer than women, and in the 15 to 64 age group, men were 39% more likely to develop cancer than women when breast cancer and sex-specific cancers were excluded.
- Men were found to have a significantly higher risk of all types of non-breast, non-sex-specific cancer analysed (bladder, bowel, brain and central nervous system, kidney, leukaemia, liver, lung, myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, oesophagus, pancreas and stomach), with the exception of malignant melanoma, where the risk across all age groups was the same in men and women.
- The most common cancers diagnosed in men were prostate (25%), lung (14%), and bowel (14%).
More men than women die from cancer.
- In 2010, there were 82,482 deaths from cancer in men, compared to 74,794 deaths in women in the UK. When adjusted for age, this corresponds to 202 deaths per 100,000 men and 147 deaths from cancer in women. By comparing the death rate in men and women, it was calculated that men have a 37% higher risk of death from cancer.
- The mortality rate in the 15 to 64 age group was 6% greater in men and women. However, if breast and sex-specific cancers were excluded, the mortality risk from cancer for men in this age group was 58% higher compared to women, and across all age groups, men had a 67% greater risk of death. This can again be explained by the impact of breast and sex-specific cancers on women in the 15 to 64 age group.
- Men were found to have a significantly higher risk of death from all types of non-breast, non-sex-specific cancer analysed.
- The most common causes of male cancer death across all age groups were lung (24%), prostate (13%), and bowel (10%).
The lifetime risk of developing cancer is similar for boys and girls
- The lifetime risk of developing cancer is approximately one in three for both boys and girls. However, when breast and sex-specific cancers are excluded, the lifetime risk for girls drops to one in four, whilst remaining the same in boys.
Why are men more prone to getting and dying from cancer?
The reason for the difference in cancer burden between men and women is unknown. Biological differences between men and women could play a role, as could socioeconomic and lifestyle factors, including:
- living and working conditions
- alcohol intake
- physical activity
- exposure to the sun
- differences in symptom awareness
- differences in uptake of screening opportunities
A second report, also released today, highlighted the impact various lifestyle factors can have on men’s risk of cancer. It found that smoking remains the largest preventable cause of cancer, and is implicated in 23% of all men’s cancers. However, further research will be required to determine the reasons for the difference in cancer burden.
What can I do to reduce my risk of cancer?
Current advice for reducing the risk of cancer includes:
- stopping smoking
- cutting down on alcohol consumption
- maintaining a healthy weight
- eating a balanced diet
- engaging in 30 minutes moderate activity five times per week
- covering up in the sun
- protecting yourself from sexually transmitted infections