Men are still dying of prostate cancer because they are too embarrassed to visit a doctor.
They see medical examinations and discussions of intimate problems as a ‘violation’ of their privacy and masculinity, a study shows.
Despite decades of campaigning to raise awareness of prostate cancer many men are ignorant about the disease and its effects. It is now a bigger killer than breast cancer.
A second study – of more than 800,000 patients in England – found that men with full-time jobs are twice as likely as women not to have seen a GP over the past year.
The figures emerged after the launch of a Daily Mail campaign to end needless prostate deaths through earlier diagnosis and higher research spending. ‘Too often men are still
expected to be strong, not to ask for help and never to show weakness,’ said Martin Tod, of the Men’s Health Forum.
‘When this means they fail to get checked for prostate cancer, or ask for help too late, that delay, in the worst case, could be fatal. Some problems might seem embarrassing, but it is not worth dying of embarrassment.’
Men diagnosed at an early stage of prostate cancer have a 98 per cent chance of surviving for a decade. This drops to 22 per cent for advanced cases.
Last week it was revealed that deaths from prostate cancer – 11,800 a year – had for the first time overtaken breast cancer, prompting calls for greater funding.
It receives far less research spending than breast cancer. But experts calculate just an extra £15million a year – taking it up to £40million to match breast cancer – would save 7,000 lives a year by 2026.
The main barrier to diagnosis is embarrassment, according to in-depth research at the University of Bath into 20 prostate patients. The academics found they had not wanted to be examined or were ashamed to tell doctors or GP receptionists about sexual problems, which can be the first sign of prostate cancer.
One of the men said of his examination by a woman doctor: ‘Invasive.’ Another said: ‘It’s embarrassing enough, but to tell a receptionist why you want to go and see a doctor. I would never tell her.’ The study reported: ‘Both medical exams and expression of sexually-related symptoms were associated with a violation of men’s privacy and masculinity.’
The authors, who studied men aged 57 to 83, added: ‘Seeking medical help implies relying on others, admitting one’s needs, and the acceptance of a diminished health status.
‘However, these processes may cause a conflict in some men who value the importance of being self-reliant, physically tough, and emotionally in control.’
The Bath study, published in the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, shows patients still see the warning signs of prostate cancer as minor and insignificant. One man diagnosed with the disease, who had been reluctant to see a doctor, said: ‘I was in perfect health. I would never go desperately, like a lot of people go for the smallest thing, don’t they?’
Another issue is the weakness of the PSA blood test, the main form of diagnosis. It is notoriously unreliable and needs to be confirmed with a painful biopsy.
The 2017 GP Patient Survey for England showed that almost a quarter of men with full-time jobs had not contacted their GP over the past year. That compared with 12 per cent of women.
The gender gap is seen principally in younger age groups.