Men’s Health Month: Life expectancy widens between men and women

Changing this means men taking control of their healthcare by seeking early detection and treatment for preventable diseases

by Tia

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the life expectancy gap between men and women has widened. Today, on average, women survive men by over five years. While it is true that men face unique health challenges and risks, a key reason for the widening life expectancy gap is that men often avoid seeking help until it’s too late. This is particularly problematic, as statistics also show that men are more likely to suffer from serious and chronic illnesses, which is a key factor in them having shorter life expectancies compared to women.

According to Denelle Morais, Marketing and Communications Managerat Bestmed Medical Scheme, with June marking Men’s Health Month, it is the perfect time to raise awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys, where increased awareness of such issues could make a significant difference.

“Men tend to bow to cultural norms and societal pressure, meaning they are hesitant to appear weak or vulnerable. This leads them to avoid check-ups for so long that their physical health has often regressed to a point where it might be too late,” says Morais. “Furthermore, many men often neglect scheduling their necessary health screenings, just as they are when it comes to eating a healthy diet or talking with medical professionals about stress. This is why it’s important for men to be proactive about their health by scheduling regular check-ups and seeking treatment early for concerning symptoms.”

Broadly speaking, the three biggest health challenges men face are the threats of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and various forms of cancer, notably prostate and testicular cancer.

Cardiovascular disease is dangerous as it increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes, two leading causes of death among men. Guarding against this begins with lifestyle choices. When it comes to diabetes, men need to be aware that they should be screened for the disease from the age of 45. If left untreated, high blood may lead to heart disease or strokes, as well as damage to the kidneys, nerves, and eyes, among other issues.

Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men. Statistics indicate that on average, the lifetime risk for prostate cancer in men in South Africa is 1 in 15. “Much like with testicular cancer, early detection of prostate cancer improves the chances of a positive outcome, which is why men over the age of 40 should be undertaking regular prostate screenings,” Morais says.

According to Bestmed’s statistics, over the last three years, preventative screening benefits (such as prostate specific antigen) have been accessed by only 14% of men over 40 year-on-year, dropping from the previous 16% in 2019 and 2020, respectively. The start of 2024 has, however, seen an increase, with almost 19% accessing preventative screenings in the first few months of the year.

“We understand that many men find the dreaded ‘prostate check’ terrifying, so much so that this form of cancer, which is highly treatable in its early stages, often goes undetected until it is too late. We, therefore, are encouraged by the rising screening numbers and further encourage monthly testicular self-examinations, as well as annual medical check-ups,” concludes Morais.

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