Gay Times January 10 - Issue 376
Men are more likely to die from cancer yet – compared to women – male cancer is poorly funded and often overlooked. So why do we get short-changed? And are gay guys worse off? Peter Lloyd investigates
It only takes one look at official health statistics to see that cancer in men is increasingly common. And, due to an uneven distribution of funding and care, increasingly dangerous.
More from Gay Times January 10 - Issue 376
Figures from cancer care charity Macmillan suggest that men are 40% more likely to die from cancer than women – and 16% more likely to develop it in the first place. This was substantiated in 2006 when every part of the UK witnessed more men diagnosed with cancer than women, making it not only a medical issue, but also a social, moral and financial one.
Graham Bower, 31, from London, was one of those men. He had a patch of skin on his back which his GP repeatedly said was eczema. He wasn’t convinced and eventually went private to get a second opinion. In 2007, he was finally told he had a rare form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. But, because his cancer had associations with HIV – a virus almost exclusively linked with gay men – Bower and his partner were repeatedly cross-examined by health professionals about their HIV statuses, even though they tested negative.
Four rounds of chemo later, he is now in remission. But his experience resonates and begs one very important question: why are men disadvantaged when it comes to cancer care? And do gay men really suffer an additional ignorance?
“Initially, all the doctors were convinced I must have AIDS – and this was clearly associated with their perception of me as being in a high risk group,” Bower told GT. “I had a lump in my groin, so my GP referred me to a private cancer surgeon for a biopsy. When I got there, he said I probably had HIV/AIDS. My boyfriend and I were both shocked because we’d had so few partners and were always safe, but – at the same time – we felt an element of trust with the doctor’s knowledge.
“Naturally, we had tests done immediately and, fortunately, they were both negative. But that was a strange night. We drank champagne and celebrated, because I only had cancer – not cancer and AIDS. But little did they know that my sex life was probably way more conservative than theirs!
“There was also an assumption that I wouldn’t want to save any sperm [chemotherapy can make you sterile] and the andrology unit was filled with NHS funded straight porn,” he added. “That was because I was gay. Ironically, cancer doesn’t care whether you’re gay or straight. It’s non-discriminatory.”
But the treatment and diagnosis of cancer seems to be riddled with inconsistencies and inequalities. Women are screened for breast and cervical cancers, at a combined cost of £232 million, but no such screening exists for prostate cancer in men. (Instead a basic, but somewhat unreliable test is available if men find out about it and choose to have it.) The NHS says that’s because the screening system available is not reliable enough for prostate cancer and can cause false alarms and unnecessary treatment of men who would never have had prostate cancer problems.
But screening aside, funding for research is also uneven. An article in The Times in 2005 claimed that the government and leading charity in the field spent £36.8 million a year researching breast cancer, against £9.7 million on prostate cancer.
Likewise, according to Mark Perry, professor at the University of Michigan, America’s National Institutes of Health estimated the US spent over $4 billion in 2009 for female-specific cancers, but only $299 million for men’s – a ratio of almost 15:1.
Hard figures in the UK are almost impossible to get hold of. The Department of Health told GT it doesn’t break down cancer spend according to gender. If that’s true it’s part of the problem. A 2004 Men’s Health Forum briefing paper on men and cancer said none of the national cancer targets specifically mention the need to reduce cancer in men. As a result, there’s very little planning locally or nationally to target men.
To Find out more and read the rest of the article, pick up the January issue of GT, where we've also got celebs to pose for us naked to raise money for MacmIllan