Cancer—especially late in life—can be deadly, but a new report from the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) reveals that the often precarious disease prefers men. Lead researcher Michael B. Cook, an epidemiologist with NCI explains that differences in "carcinogenic exposures, metabolism, and susceptibility," seem to be the cause.

"Increased rates of smoking among men, and differences in infections, hormones, and contact with toxic metals may all come into play," said Cook in a press release. Differences in the way men live and how their bodies respond to toxins in both environmentally and internally seem to impact their susceptibility to cancer. Cook's study was published in the August issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

When Cook and his team examined cancers with the highest death rates overall, morality was higher among men than women in every instance. Researchers gleaned information about 36 different cancers from the NCI's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database and uncovered these grim statistics:

  • Lung and bronchus cancer killed 2.31 men for every 1 woman.
  • Liver cancer killed 2.23 men for every 1 woman.
  • Colon and rectum cancer took 1.42 male lives for every female life.
  • Pancreatic cancer claimed the lives of 1.37 men for each woman.
  • Leukemia was responsible for death in 1.75 men compared to every woman.

Death rates for other cancers revealed even more bad news for men: lip cancer killed 5.51 men for every 1 woman; cancer of the larynx was responsible for the lives of 5.37 men versus every 1 woman; throat cancer killed 4.47 men for each woman, and urinary bladder cancer claimed 3.36 men per 1 woman.

Fortunately, the research team did not find significant differences in the ability of either sex with regards to fighting the disease. "Gender was not a major factor in the five-year survival rate of most cancers when age, the year of diagnosis, and tumor stage were factored into the equation," said Cook. 

Cancer in Men

According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is the general name associated with a group of more than 100 diseases in which cells in a particular region of the body grow out of control. Cancer is caused by both external factors such as chemicals, radiation, and viruses as well as internal factors including hormones, immunology, and inherited mutations (genes). When normal cell functioning is interrupted, cancer can result.

Second only to heart disease, cancer is the leading killer of people in the U.S. Half of all men—compared with a third of all women—will develop cancer in their lifetimes. This year about 1,228,600 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed. Lung, prostate, and colorectal cancer are the leading causes of cancer deaths among men (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Sadly, many of these deaths could be prevented with proper screening and lifestyle modifications such as losing weight, taking measures to lower high blood pressure, and kicking the cigarette habit.

Early Detection is Key to Curing Cancer

Knowing the signs and symptoms of cancer is essential for detection since early treatment is the most effective way to combat cancer. If you notice any of the following problems, seek medical attention:

  • Unexplained weight loss. Losing 10 pounds or more for unknown reasons may be the first sign of cancer.
  • Fever is common with cancer, but it more often happens after cancer has spread.
  • Fatigue or extreme tiredness that does subside with rest can be an important symptom as cancer grows.
  • Persistent pain. A headache that does not go away can be a sign of a brain tumor. Back pain can be a symptom of cancer of the colon or rectum. However, pain due to cancer is most often a symptom of cancer that has already spread or metastasized.
  • Skin changes can be a sign of skin cancer as well as other cancers. Consult a doctor if you see hyper pigmentation (areas of the body where the skin appears darker than surrounding skin), jaundice or yellowish skin and eyes, red areas, itching, or excessive hair growth.

Noticing any major changes in the way your body works—including changes in digestion and bowel functioning—or how you feel, should always be taken seriously.

As researchers continue to ponder why men are dying at higher rates of nearly every disease—it's not just a phenomenon associated with cancer—male health advocates want to focus public attention on their unique health risks.

While it's true men are notorious for putting off routine preventative checkups—ignoring health symptoms when they occur, and are less likely to have a primary care doctor in the first place, advocates believe that by thinking about how, as a culture, we might correct the comparative vulnerability of men, we will uncover new ways to improve the male health record and extend their longevity.




American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute

UC Davis Men's Health Program

Harvard University