Top health issues men face

Forget the “tough guy” stereotypes. Men are prone to serious health issues that can steal their quality of life and lead to disability and death. On average, men don’t live as long as women, and they’re more likely to be affect by certain health issues that can turn deadly.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t fight back. Many of the top health issues facing men today can be effectively treated if caught early enough — or even avoided or delayed with the right precautions.

Here’s a look at some of men’s top health concerns — and what they can do about them.


Forty five per cent of Canadian men will develop cancer during their lifetimes — a rate that’s 5 per cent higher than in women. An estimated 93,000 Canadian men will be diagnosed with cancer in 2011 — and 39,900 will die from the disease.

Prostate cancer, the most common type of cancer in men, occurs at a higher rate than breast cancer occurs in women. One in seven men will develop it during his lifetime, and one in 28 men will die from it. To put that in perspective, more than 25,500 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in Canada in 2011 — that’s 70 men each day. The good news is that if caught early and treated, the five year survival rate tops 95 per cent.

And while lung cancer rates in men have been declining in recent years, the disease still kills more men than women. Even though lung cancer occurs half as often as prostate cancer, it will kill twice as many men. This year, 13,200 men will learn they have lung cancer, and 11,300 men will die from it.

Colorectal cancer, despite being the third most common cancer in both males and females, has a higher incidence and death rate in men. There’s a 1 in 13 chance of a man developing the disease during his lifetime, and 12,500 men will be diagnosed with the disease this year.

What can be done to minimize the risks? Healthy lifestyle choices like eating a balanced diet, exercising, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight are essential, as is avoiding unnecessary exposure to radiation and chemicals. Regular screenings are also helpful to detect cancers in their earliest and most curable stages. (For more information, see Eight ways to prevent cancer).

(Statistics from the Canadian Cancer Society)

Heart disease and stroke

While women are more likely to die from cardiovascular disease, that doesn’t mean men are off the hook — it’s still their second-leading cause of death.

Statistics show that eight in ten people have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, but some of these risk factors show up more often in men. For example, men are more likely to smoke and be overweight or obese than women. Also, men in certain age groups are more at risk than women because they lack the protective benefits of estrogen that women have before menopause.

In addition, most victims of cardiac arrest — which is almost always fatal when it happens outside of a hospital — are men in their late 60s or early 70s.

The good news is that cardiovascular disease is on the decline, but both men and women can be doing more to prevent it. The usual advice — a healthy diet, maintaining a normal weight, regular physical activity, stress management, not smoking and cutting back the salt — are all things that can reduce the risk. (For more information, see How to save a heart)

(Source: Statistics Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation).

Type 2 diabetes

Bad news for boomer and senior men: they’re also more likely to develop diabetes than their female cohorts. According to Statistics Canada, more men have diabetes than women across most age groups, with the exception of those 75 and over. Thanks to rising obesity rates and increasingly sedentary lifestyles, as many as three million Canadians now live with diabetes — including one million people who haven’t been diagnosed yet. An additional six million people could be living with pre-diabetes — and nearly half of them will go on to develop type 2 diabetes.

While diabetes can be effectively managed, it can still rob people of 5 – 15 years of life. People with diabetes are at a higher risk for cancer or other chronic illnesses, and an estimated 80 per cent of patients will die of heart disease or stroke. Diabetes can also lead to other complications resulting in blindness, loss of sensation, amputation and kidney disease (also a top cause of death for men).

What’s troublesome about these numbers is that about 90 per cent of all cases are type 2 diabetes — the type that experts know can be prevented with good lifestyle choices like a healthy diet, weight and exercise. According to research, people over the age of 50 can reduce their risk by 58 per cent simply by exercising moderately for 30 minutes per day and losing five to seven per cent of their body weight. People over 60 who do the same thing can cut their risk by as much as 71 per cent.

Heeding the early warning signs is also crucial. Damage can start during the pre-diabetes stage, but it’s not too late to stop type 2 diabetes from developing. Be on the lookout for symptoms like unexplained weight changes, frequent urination, wounds that are slow to heal, blurred vision and tingling or numbness in the hands and feet. However, many people don’t experience any symptoms, which is why regular screening is important. (See Put diabetes on hold for more information.)

(Sources: Statistics Canada and the Canadian Diabetes Association Get Checked Now Campaign.)


More women suffer from anxiety and depression than men, but the latest numbers from Statistics Canada (2007) show a grim trend in men’s mental health. Suicide is the seventh leading cause of death for men — placing it ahead of Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease and the flu. In many countries like Canada, the U.S. and Australia, men are three to four times more likely to commit suicide than women.

How does that translate to numbers? In 2007, 2,727 men in Canada killed themselves compared to 884 women. In both cases, the numbers are still too high.

The reasons behind suicide are complex, and there’s some controversy as to why more men kill themselves than women. For instance, some experts argue that men are less likely to seek help than women, or they may understate their problems in order to not seem vulnerable. Others warn that men experience different symptoms — like increased aggression.

However, the important thing is that suicide can be prevented if the symptoms and risks are identified in time. Some of the warning signs include signs of depression, remarks related to dying, giving away possessions (or making preparations for death) and a sudden switch in attitude from being hopeless to being cheerful. (For more information on warning signs and how to get help, see the Canadian Mental Health Association website and the Centre for Suicide Prevention).

(Source: Statistics Canada)

Erectile dysfunction

It isn’t fatal and can be “fixed” with a little pill, so what’s it doing on this list? While erectile dysfunction (or impotence) can impact a man’s sex life — not to mention his overall well-being and self-image — it can also be a warning sign of more serious health problems.

A pattern of not being able to get or keep an erection can be caused by conditions that affect the nerves, brain and blood vessels. For example, impotence can be a symptom of diabetes or pre-diabetes. ED is often caused by atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries which can lead to heart disease), high blood pressure and liver or kidney failure. Alcohol abuse and smoking are also culprits as well as high stress levels. As much as one third of men suffer form ED, and it’s most common after the age of 65.

The bottom line: Men who are experiencing erectile dysfunction should see their doctor to make sure the causes of ED are treated, not just the symptoms. Men who’d like to avoid the problem altogether should maintain a healthy weight, stop smoking and keep their cholesterol and blood pressure at healthy rates. Men with diabetes will need to keep their condition under control too.

For more information, see the

While these health issues were identified as top concerns based on statistical data, there are many other challenges too. For instance, men are more likely than women to die as the result of an accident — especially men between the ages of 18 and 40. Other leading causes of death in men include chronic respiratory disease (like COPD), Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease and the flu.

Overall, a better understanding of the issues that affect men and better education on how to prevent them can help men live longer and healthier lives. For more information about men’s health issues, see the Health Canada and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Additional source: WebMD

Photo © Yvonne Chamberlain

Updated June 2011 with new information and statistics.

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