“This shows that it is just not true that men are fundamentally doctor-dodgers,” says Anita Rieder, expert in social medicine and Head of the Centre for Public Health at the MedUni Vienna ahead of International Men’s Day on Wednesday (tomorrow). “And it puts us in a very good position internationally in comparison with countries with similar preventative healthcare programmes too. The negative attributes that are continually attributed to men’s health do nothing to suggest ways of improving men’s health and only help perpetuate clichés; they were also criticised in the recent European report on The State of Men’s Health in Europe.”
Men’s health priorities unchanged over 15 years
In 1999, the city of Vienna published the world’s first report on men’s health, in which Professor Rieder played a leading role. The term “men’s health” has become firmly established since then. 15 years later, the priorities are still very similar: there are too many early deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as accidents and respiratory diseases such as COPD. “The lost years of life and associated shorter life expectancy for men are also very strongly linked to socioeconomic factors. This is particularly clear for lung cancer and other smoking-related tumours, but it also holds true for fatal industrial and traffic accidents.”
Getting men involved earlier
There is still a need to get men involved with preventative healthcare at an earlier stage: preventative check-ups are offered in Austria from the age of 18 onwards and become more extensive with age. In younger years, the focus is on risk factors for cardiovascular disease, obesity, smoking, diabetes and a healthy lifestyle; later, cancer screening programmes, such as those for bowel cancer or checks in cases of suspected prostate cancer are included, although in the latter case there is still need for scientific debate around offering early diagnosis investigations to all men over a certain age, even without symptoms.
Says Rieder: “Compared to the number of early prostate cancer diagnoses, there are still too many disadvantages to the test for men. It is always important to discuss with a doctor whether, when and how often the so-called PSA test should be carried out for early diagnosis in each individual case.” There is a need to aim for continued development of the test as well as better recommendations, so that a more satisfactory early diagnosis programme, comparable to mammography screening for women, can be offered.
Women are also automatically engaged in the Austrian preventative healthcare system at a much earlier stage: “Children and families, family planning and the Mother-Child Passport mean that they come into contact with the system earlier”. Increasing the number of healthcare activities available in the workplace and workplace health promotion schemes could be a step in this direction for men.
“While men’s health has improved somewhat in the last 15 years, there are still risk factors and diseases that can often be recognised early, and prevented,” continues the MedUni Vienna expert in social medicine. “There should also be more focus on mental health because men and women are equally affected by mental illness and stress, yet the issue is often predominantly associated with women’s health.”