It’s not just a prostate cancer problem, nor is it an issue confined to research funding. Men’s health is poorly addressed in the United States.
Prostate cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and nearly 10,000 men in the United States are diagnosed with testicular cancer each year. But you wouldn’t know it, from the cancer research funding. The National Cancer Institute spends twice as much funding research on breast cancer than it does on prostate cancer; the National Institutes of health spends almost three times more ($700 million, to prostate cancer’s $250 million). Why, given that more people may die of prostate cancer than breast cancer, is this the case?
Before jumping into the politics, it’s worth noting that prostate cancer kills many men but that breast cancer strikes many women when they are younger, meaning it almost certainly results in more years of life lost, a metric doctors use to understand that nature of afflictions at scale. Still, the relative investments in breast cancer and prostate cancer research funding are not remotely consistent.
“It’s counterintuitive,” Dr. Jim C. Hu, a urologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York Presbyterian Hospital, told Fatherly. “But when you look at the playing field for cancer research, for whatever reason, men get less funding than women. It’s fairly common—1 in 7 men get prostate cancer—and now that men are living longer, they are going to be at greater risk.”
It’s not just a prostate cancer problem, nor is it an issue confined to research funding. Men’s health is poorly addressed in the United States. Several offices in the federal system promote women’s health, but not a single office exists exclusively to highlight men’s unique health needs. This is an interesting dynamic given that specific women’s offices exist in a number of governmental departments because there is a well-founded assumption that historical precedent will lead to the prioritization of men’s issues. But this isn’t exactly the case in the health sphere. Women’s clinics are pervasive at the state and local level, and women’s hospitals are cropping up across the country. No comparable movement exists for men’s health. The result? Women live an average of seven years longer than men. And, no, biology and genetics do not account for this disparity. Men die young, in large part because their health needs are seldom met.
Although government apathy is certainly part of the problem, men are not blameless. “Guys don’t really complain,” Hu says. “They’re not as apt to be proactive about their health, they’re less likely to talk to their senators and say that this is a problem.” Women’s cancers may get more funding because women demand higher quality health care in a way that men do not. Part of the solution is galvanizing men to take their health seriously. “It starts with education,” Hu says. “There’s poor health literacy. Movember is a great way to get the word out.”
The Movember movement has been effective at getting the word out, but it’s not big enough to make up for gaps in government funding. Still, it’s pushing in the right direction. The ultimate cause of the healthcare disparity seems to be cultural and Movember is a push for a cultural shift.
“A lot of people believe prostate cancer is not cancer that patients die from, that people tend to outlive their prostate cancer,” says Dr. S. Adam Ramin, urologist and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles. “It is not necessarily true. If there is a cultural change in the attention given to prostate cancer and its complications, there would be more of an inclination to request funding and more pressure for the government to provide that funding.”
It is noteworthy that, when it comes to testicular cancer, the problem is less pronounced. “Testicular cancer, because it is so rare, cannot really be compared to funding for other types of cancer,” Ramen says. “Testicular cancer also has a higher chance of a cure, therefore the research for testicular cancer is not going to be as robust as that of prostate or breast cancer.”
But the disparity among more pressing men’s cancers, such as prostate cancer, keeps some urologists up at night. “I am worried about it,” Ramin says. “Breast cancer and prostate cancer have a lot of similarities, but the funding given to prostate cancer is just not as high. It’s not that it’s a forgotten disease, per se, but it needs more attention and more research.”
Ramin pauses on this last point. “It definitely needs more funding,” he adds.
This article was originally published on