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Men who have cancer more likely to die from it, study finds

Not only are men more likely than women to be diagnosed with cancer, among those who get the disease, men also have a higher chance of dying from it, according to a new study.
/ Source: Reuters

Not only are men more likely than women to be diagnosed with cancer, among those who get the disease, men also have a higher chance of dying from it, according to new research.

In an analysis of cases of all but the sex-specific cancers like prostate and ovarian cancers, for example, men with the disease were more likely than women to die in each of the past 10 years, researchers found.

That translates to an extra 24,130 men dying of cancer in 2012 because of their gender.

"This gap needs to be closed," said Dr. Shahrokh Shariat from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, who worked on the study.

"It's not about showing that men are only doing worse and, ‘poor men.' It's about closing gender differences and improving health care" for both men and women, he said.

Using U.S. cancer registry data from 2003 through 2012, Shariat and his colleagues found the ratio of deaths to cancer diagnoses decreased by 10 percent over the past decade - but was consistently higher among men than women.

Overall, men with any type of cancer were six percent more likely to die of their disease than women with cancer. When men and women with the same type of cancer were compared, that difference rose to more than 12 percent.

In 2012, Shariat's team calculated that about 575,130 men and 457,240 women would be diagnosed with a non-sex specific cancer. Also this year, an estimated 243,620 men will die of cancer - one death for every 2.36 new diagnoses - and 182,670 women will die, one for each 2.50 new diagnoses.

"We found that from the 10 most common cancers in male and females… men present at a higher stage than females, and adjusted for the incidence, are more likely to die from the cancer," Shariat told Reuters Health.

"If you take an average of the 10 most common cancers, men are more likely to die in seven out of the ten," he added. In contrast, women are more likely to die only from bladder cancer, the researchers found.

The new study can't show what's behind the differences in cancer deaths, they wrote in The Journal of Urology.

But possible theories, they added, include men's higher rates of smoking and drinking combined with less frequent doctor's visits - which cause men's cancers to be diagnosed in later, more advanced stages.

Sex hormones may also contribute to differences in men's and women's immune systems, metabolism and general susceptibility to cancer, according to Yang Yang, a sociologist and cancer researcher from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who studies health disparities but wasn't involved in the new research.

She said the new findings are consistent with work suggesting a higher risk of death for men from many causes, including cancer.

"But a full understanding of the origins and mechanisms in sex differences in cancer, as well as overall mortality has remained elusive," Yang told Reuters Health in an email.

Shariat said men should be particularly proactive about their health care.

"That means going to screening programs, seeing a general practitioner or primary care provider on a regular basis and as soon as symptoms arise that are new, mentioning that to their primary care physicians," he said.