How to talk to your man about cancer

June 16, 2016 | by H. Chung So

 

 

Getting regular medical checkups, recommended screenings and seeing a doctor about a symptom are some of the easiest ways to lower your risk of getting and dying from cancer. However, this is one area where men consistently fall short.

According to federal government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, men are 22 percent less likely than women to have an annual doctor’s visit. Additionally, they are more likely to get health complications that are preventable with regular checkups and early interventions.

Matthew Loscalzo, L.C.S.W., Liliane Elkins Endowed Professor in Supportive Care Programs and administrative director of the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center at City of Hope, is not surprised by these findings.

“In many cultures, men are socialized to protect and provide for their families and loved ones; however, this is often detrimental to their personal health since they put off regular exams or ignore medical symptoms.”

Thus, in addition to encouraging men to see their doctors more often, Loscalzo also encourages open and regular conversations with male loved ones - including husbands, boyfriends, partners, brothers and fathers - about their health and getting the recommended checkups and cancer screenings on-schedule.

To help start or continue these dialogues, Loscalzo offers the following advice:

Their health as a responsibility to others: Because men are acclimated to support their families and loved ones, framing their doctors’ visits in this perspective can be a helpful encouragement. “If they can’t take care of themselves due to serious illness, they certainly can’t take care of others,” Loscalzo said.

An early investment in good health: To men who complain that regular checkups cost too much time and money, Loscalzo notes that it is still much better than an advanced disease diagnosis, particularly with cancer.

“Not only are late-stage cancers more challenging to treat, they are also likely more expensive and time consuming since they usually require more therapies, additional clinic visits and longer hospital stays, compared to early-stage disease,” Loscalzo said.

Feeling fine does not equal being fine: “But I feel great!” is another common excuse to put off regular visits and screenings. To this, Loscalzo said that many cancers do not show symptoms in their earliest and most treatable stages.

Additionally, some screening procedures - such as colonoscopies - can help prevent cancer by detecting and removing precancerous tissue, even if no symptoms are present.

Take symptoms seriously: Symptoms should not be ignored - or “toughed out” - because it is your body telling you something is wrong, Loscalzo said. Even minor symptoms - such as unexpected loss of appetite, fatigue or change in bowel or urinary habits - can be early indicators of cancer, so they should be evaluated and addressed by a physician in timely manner.

Lastly, Loscalzo said that loved ones of gay, bisexual and transgendered men need to be extra vigilant, due to the additional barriers they face in accessing health care - meaning they are even less likely to get regular checkups and cancer screenings.

“Our system is getting better in providing care for this population, but in the meantime, they need to be more active and vocal advocates for their own health,” Loscalzo said.

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