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The Cancer Risk for British Men

Posted on Feb 11, 2013 by Ailee Slater ()

Classic television programs like Men Behaving Badly and Only Fools and Horses may give casual viewers the impression that British men do little more than drink beer, eat crisps and get into trouble with their girlfriends. Luckily, the state of manhood in the United Kingdom is not nearly so dire as all that. A recent study by UK Cancer Research, however, does indicate that when it comes to health, British men should not get too comfortable with their current lifestyle choices.

Published just last month, this UK Cancer Research study highlights the risks of cancer for men in the United Kingdom. Researchers found that 202 out of every 100,000 men were dying of cancer, whereas the rate for 100,000 women was just 147. Removing instances of sex-specific cancers, such as prostate and breast cancer, the difference in health for men and women becomes even more significant - British men are 67 percent more likely than women to die from a non-sex-specific cancer such as that affecting the lungs or liver. Cancer kills more men in the United Kingdom than any other disease, with a death toll of around 82,500 per year.

The UK Cancer Research study, conducted along with the Men's Health Forum and the National Cancer Intelligence Network, found that  around 40 percent of these cancer fatalities could be prevented through changes in lifestyle. Habits such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol and not eating enough fruits and vegetables are, according to these researchers, greatly contributing to the prevalence of cancer in British men. The study found that besides prostate cancer, men in the UK are especially at risk for lung, esophageal, and liver cancer.

Every year in Britain, lung cancer kills more people than prostate cancer, bladder cancer, breast cancer and leukemia combined. Most cases (around 9/10) occur in smokers or ex-smokers, of which there tend to be a greater number of men. Although the prevalence of smoking in the United Kingdom has fallen steadily since the 1970s, around a quarter of men are still regular smokers and inhale an average of 13 cigarettes per day, according to a 2009 report by the London Health Observatory. Besides smoking, there are other factors that put men at risk of developing lung cancer; indeed, it is one of the most common forms of cancer seen in men, second only to prostate cancer in prevalence.

Men are more likely than women to be employed in a line of work involving toxic chemicals or asbestos, and inhalation of these is, along with smoking, a big risk factor for developing lung cancer. Anyone working in building demolition, for example, may be prone to asbestos exposure. The asbestos mineral, made up of tiny fibers, can settle in the lungs and eventually cause cancer. UK men are also more vulnerable than women to esophageal cancer. Whereas rates of esophageal cancer in women have increased 14 percent in the past 30 years, rates in men have increased more than 60 percent. Because 90 percent of esophageal cancers are caused by lifestyle choices, preventative action such as not smoking or drinking too much and maintaining a healthy diet have a huge effect on an individual's chances of developing this disease.

Chronic acid reflux, heartburn and a genetic predisposition are other factors that may put more men than women at risk. Liver cancer is another disease that, like lung and esophageal cancer, is often caused by choices in lifestyle. Although the rate of liver cancer is fairly low in the United Kingdom as opposed to the rest of the world, liver cancer prevalence has risen in the past few decades, probably due to increasing misuse of alcohol and changes in diet. Sixty percent of liver cancer in the UK occurs in men; a statistic which may be related to the fact that men drink more than twice as much as women, according to data from the UK Office of National Statistics. A large consumption of alcohol can lead to scarring of tissue on the liver, commonly known as cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis of the liver puts a person at great risk for developing cancer further down the line. Besides alcohol, poor diet and obesity can also lead to liver cancer. The condition known as Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease refers to a significant buildup of fats in the liver causing inflammation and damage. These extra fats result from carrying too much weight around the waist, a condition common in people struggling with obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Having Fatty Liver Disease makes a person four times more likely to develop liver cancer than someone without this disease. Because men are less likely than women to go to their doctor and schedule a cancer screening, liver cancer can be especially detrimental for men.

With liver cancer, a person often does not recognize the symptoms as anything abnormal - nausea, vomiting and yellowing of the skin may be interpreted as food allergies or a normal bout of the flu. Most people are not diagnosed very early; in fact, the UK National Health Service estimates that only 1 in 10 patients with liver cancer is able to catch the disease in its early and more treatable stages. Sadly, if liver cancer is not diagnosed until later on, chances for survival greatly decrease. It may become nearly impossible to cure the disease, and treatment will instead focus on relieving pain and discomfort rather than fixing the problem. Indeed, cancer screening is noted by the UK Cancer Research study as one more reason that British men may have higher rates of cancer. Men tend to visit their doctors less, and so have less chances for general screenings and cancer tests in particular.

UK Cancer Research gives the example of bowel cancer - although it is widely known that men are more susceptible to this disease than women, women still receive far more screenings than men. Alan White, a professor of men's health at Leeds Metropolitan University, recommends that doctors discuss cancer screening with men, as men who have discussed it with doctors are more likely to go for screening. The UK Cancer Research study likewise recommends that doctors take a more proactive approach to getting patients, especially male patients, screened for cancer.

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