Health and masculinity
‘Men are more reluctant to go to the doctor, and less likely to be honest once they get there – and this is putting them at risk.’ - NZ Health Navigator
Men can experience external pressures to uphold stereotypical masculine traits; to appear tough, brave, strong self-reliant and mentally stable. Common phrases like "man up" or "harden up and be a man" can serve as triggers to an individual, that they need to act and feel strong or loose status and respect as men.
It's essential we break down these perceptions and talk about health and wellbeing. Monitoring your health and getting any health concerns checked mean that if there is a problem, this gets identified and managed at an early stage. Concerns may turn out to be nothing, but it's important to get checked out just in case.
This page covers a few of the common health concerns that can affect men.
MAJ Rousseau Speaks about Men's health
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in Kiwi men, with over 4,000 men diagnosed each year (Ministry of Health). The good news is that it develops very gradually and can be caught early if you know the signs and get screened regularly.
The prostate is a male sex gland found just below the bladder near the rectum. It plays a crucial part of the male reproductive system by secreting fluids into the urethra (the tube that carries urine and semen out of the body through the penis), functioning to enrich and protect the sperm.
As a male matures during puberty, testosterone stimulates prostate growth and development, reaching the average size of a walnut.
The human body is formed from trillions of building blocks called cells; these are tightly regulated to reproduce and die at certain times. Cancer, is a mutation in these cells, leading to uncontrolled cell reproduction. This results in the formation of a lump or tumour. Prostate cancer occurs when these abnormal cells develop within the prostate gland, which can multiply at uncontrolled rates and even travel to other areas in the body (metastasize).
Men are more likely to develop prostate cancer as they get older and it's more common in men where there is a family history of prostate cancer, and families that carry specific genes (like BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes). However anyone with a prostate gland can develop prostate cancer, including transgender women, male assigned non-binary people or intersex people.
Signs and symptoms
It's common for prostate cancer not to show any symptoms, especially at the early stages, and there's a risk of it developing undetected for a while, increasing the chance of the cancer spreading.
Symptoms to look for:
- Feeling the frequent or sudden need to urinate
- Finding it difficult to urinate
- Discomfort when urinating
- Finding blood in the urine or semen
- Pain in the lower back, upper thighs or hips
- Bone pain
- Unexpected weight loss
Prevention is key
Screening for prostate cancer is recommended from around age 40 and older. One screening option is a digital rectal exam. Because the prostate gland lies in close proximity to the rectum, your doctor can physically assess the gland via a rectal exam. This is a relatively quick procedure where your doctor will look for any lumps or abnormalities on the prostate gland.
An alternative screening option is a PSA blood test. This measures the levels of Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA), a protein produced by the prostate gland. The amount of PSA protein in the blood sample can indicate whether malignant cells are present or not.
Although this test is a useful tool for detecting prostate cancer, elevated PSA levels may be caused by other factors, such as an enlarged prostate, old age, or prostatitis. Requesting a PSA blood test needs to be discussed with your doctor to be added in your annual health check-up.
There are also actions you can take reduce your risk of developing cancer before screening age, like being mindful of your health and keeping active. Research suggests there are better odds against prostate cancer in patients who exercise. It's thought that men who take part in regular physical activity are less likely to develop prostate cancer in the first place. See the 'Keeping fit and healthy' section below for further information.
Testosterone is a reproductive hormone produced by the testes. It is released in response to a cascade of hormonal signal's stemming from the brain. It provides endocrine signals to various mechanisms. Often linked to sex drive, it plays a vital role in sperm production. Testosterone is also associated with regulating bone and muscle mass, how men store fat in the body and even red blood cell production.
Testosterone production increases as a man goes through puberty. These levels are then regulated and produced at a steady rate until around the age of 30 and then testosterone levels begin to decline.
What happens if there's a deficiency in testosterone?
Because testosterone plays such an important role in regulating the male reproductive system, there are many symptoms that could be a sign of a decreased level:
- Decrease in energy or feeling lethargic
- Low libido
- Affected sexual function
- Low sperm count
- Enlarged breasts
- Erectile dysfunction - More information can be found on Health Navigator
- Reduced hair and muscle growth
It’s also important to note, low testosterone is becoming increasingly linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes development.
A testosterone deficiency can present in various ways and is only confirmed by a consult with a health professional. If you suspect you may have low testosterone, consult your nearest Defence Health Centre or doctor.
How do I prevent testosterone deficiency?
It is common and normal for testosterone levels to reduce with age so your chances of developing some symptoms increase the older you get. However, testosterone levels shouldn't get low enough to affect your life or wellbeing. It's good to be mindful of this and start thinking about ways to mediate any testosterone depletion. One great way to do this is to keep fit and healthy.
If you are concerned about changes that you think may be related to a drop in testosterone levels speak to your doctor.
Keeping fit and healthy
Sometimes keeping fit and healthy is easier said than done. Everyone has areas where they struggle, like gaining weight, keeping fit, eating healthy or obtaining a balanced lifestyle mentality. However, you can take some small and simple steps to help.