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Unlocking men’s secret thoughts

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by Cancer Research UK | News

30 May 2002

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Men are backward at coming forward when it comes to discussing cancer, according to new statistics from Cancer Research UK.

The charity, which has designated June as Men’s Cancer Awareness Month, has found that women are more than twice as likely as men to call its information nurses for advice on the disease in general.

And, surprisingly, women are also responsible for 45 per cent of calls about prostate cancer and 40 per cent of calls about testicular cancer.

Cancer Research UK’s Psychosocial Oncology Group at Brighton’s University of Sussex says that these figures highlight a communication difference between the sexes.

Prof Lesley Fallowfield, Director of the Group, explains: “Feelings can be quite hard for men to discuss, particularly if it’s about things like male cancers which are threatening to their notions of masculinity and manhood.

“There’s also a cultural expectation that ‘big boys don’t cry’ and many men do not actually ask about things that trouble them – even if it’s anonymously and over a phone line. So we have to find new ways of reaching them because sharing concerns can be a real help,” she adds.

One route may be through the internet. According to a National Statistics Omnibus Survey, men are 13 per cent more likely to use the internet than women.

So, Cancer Research UK is launching a message board on its website during June in a bid to encourage men to discuss their experiences of male cancers.

Radio 5 Live sports presenter Russell Fuller, 29, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1999, will be one of the first to post up a message on the site at

His message reads: “The worst part of it all for me was the long days leading up to being diagnosed with cancer. The uncertainty of knowing something was wrong, but not knowing what it was, was very worrying.

“Once I knew what the score was and that the odds were overwhelmingly in my favour it was much easier to deal with and rationalise. The important thing to remember is, if you do find something out of the ordinary, then get it checked out and don’t sweep it under the carpet,” he adds.

Speaking about the reluctance of men to communicate about men’s cancers, he says: “Men generally don’t like talking about their feelings as much and losing a testicle, like I did, can be embarrassing and almost like a loss of face.

“But I’m a very open person and talking about it was an invaluable help. My friends and family were very supportive, made a few jokes and did wonders for my state of mind!”

A breakdown of calls made to information nurses at Cancer Research UK shows that between 1999 and 2001 an average of 2531 men called the charity each year compared to 5617 women.