Dr. Wood: Men need to pay attention to their health even when it’s not Movember

Dr. Rachel Wood, Thurston County Health Officer.
Dr. Rachel Wood, Thurston County Health Officer. Staff Photographer

All over the world, men die an average of six years younger than women, and in Thurston County, they die an average of three years younger than women. These deaths are largely preventable.

Every November, men all over the country grow their mustaches in solidarity to raise awareness about health issues affecting men —specifically, prostate and testicular cancers, but mental health, heart health, male breast cancer and suicide prevention as well. This men’s mustache movement has turned every November into MOVEMBER.

The two leading causes of death in Thurston County are cancer and heart disease. While we know that exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer as well as lowering the risk of early death, only 23 percent of men in Thurston County are at a healthy weight. Forty percent of men are not physically active enough.

While there are many treatment options for prostate cancer, the first step is getting checked by your health care provider. Only men have a prostate gland, and 13 of every 100 men will be diagnosed with this disease in their lifetimes. Prostate cancer can spread to other parts of the body, so early detection is important. While not all men who get prostate cancer have symptoms, some do, and these symptoms might include:

  • Difficulty urinating

  • Painful or burning urination

  • Difficult or painful erection

  • Blood in urine or semen

  • Frequent pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips or upper thighs.

Testicular cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in young men. For men who have family members who have had testicular cancer, or if their testes were undescended at birth, there is a higher risk of developing the disease. This cancer can be effectively treated, but early detection is important.

There are some simple steps that men can take, and that we as a community can encourage, to reduce the impacts of these health issues. Men should:

  • Spend time with people that make them feel good.

  • Talk to their health care provider at age 50. African Americans, or men with prostate cancer in their families should talk to their providers at age 45.

  • Be familiar with what’s normal for your testicles. Check them regularly yourself, and go to a health care provider if something doesn’t feel right.

One in 800 men will be diagnosed with male breast cancer. Of those men, 1 in 5 will have a close family relative with breast cancer. While the disease is not particularly common, it is very important to diagnose early. As many as 75 percent of men who are diagnosed with breast cancer could die from the disease, so time is of the essence. The Male Breast Cancer Coalition has more information, including how to give yourself a breast exam. Contact them at MenHaveBreastsToo@gmail.com, or call 913-362-2196.

In Thurston County last year, 43 men died by suicide. In the United States, 75 percent of suicides are committed by men. One great ad, put together by the folks at Movember.com, suggests that men can take steps to reduce the risk of suicide by supporting each other. They encourage guys everywhere to talk to each other, ask questions, listen to one another, encourage action if needed, and check in with friends. See the ad at: https://youtu.be/xN6bq2hTiSM

The Thurston County Board of Health proclaimed this past November as Movember to help bring awareness to the health issues that disproportionately affect men. November is behind us, but you can visit www.movember.com year-round, and read the Proclamation to learn more.

Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, woodr@co.thurston.wa.us, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.