We’ve all heard of so-called “women’s” health conditions—diseases that allegedly only affect women. In reality, men can get many of these diseases too, but are often misunderstood or even disbelieved because of the common misconception about who can develop these conditions. Here are eight alleged “women’s diseases” that men can get too.
1. Breast cancer
Men don’t have breasts, so they can’t get breast cancer—right? In fact, men have a small amount of breast tissue behind their nipples, and although breast cancer is far less common in men (there is around 1 case for every 100 in women), it can occur. Because it’s not so well known, breast cancer in men is often diagnosed late, which affects recovery rates. Men should regularly check their chest area for lumps in the same way as women.
Osteoporosis in women is caused by a drop in estrogen levels. Men have a little estrogen in their bodies, so they can also get osteoporosis, and it’s also believed to be affected by a drop in testosterone as they age. Again, there’s one male case for every four in women, but men are affected by the same risk factors, such as a family history, long-term use of steroid medication, smoking, and even treatment for prostate cancer. If you believe you’re at risk, ask your doctor for a bone scan.
3. Ovarian cancer
Like breast cancer, it’s often thought that because men don’t have ovaries they can’t get ovarian cancer. However, a rare form of ovarian cancer can affect men. Germ cell tumors can form from sperm or testicle cells and then spread throughout the body, often to the lungs, lymph nodes and liver. This type of cancer generally affects men over 20 years old, and is especially likely in men with Klinefelter syndrome. Symptoms include persistent breathing problems and chest pains.
The “male menopause” is often dismissed as a myth or a midlife crisis, but changing levels of hormones in the male body can cause a type of menopause in men. Also known as the “andropause”, it can cause men to suffer similar symptoms to women, including hot flashes, mood swings, low libido and erectile dysfunction.
Men are less susceptible to autoimmune conditions, but they can develop diseases like lupus—around one in nine lupus patients are men. However, men tend be more seriously affected by lupus, especially in young adulthood. Symptoms include shortness of breath, digestive problems, painful joints, sensitive eyes, fatigue and recurrent fever.
Once again, around one in nine fibromyalgia sufferers are men. Males with the disorder often have milder symptoms, but in some cases they’re more seriously affected. Obtaining a diagnosis can be difficult, as men may be reluctant to admit to constant pain and doctors don’t automatically consider a diagnosis of fibromyalgia (especially when seeing male patients). As well as widespread pain, fibromyalgia can also cause stiffness, fatigue, impaired brain function and irritable bowel syndrome.
7. Eating disorders
Eating disorders in women are well documented, but men’s issues are less well known, despite a recent rise in male cases. Women’s eating disorders outnumber men’s by nine to one, but men’s problems are frequently misunderstood or even ignored. It’s believed the root cause in men is usually different from women, often arising from the desire to look strong, lean and healthy rather than thin, but it can still be linked to mental health problems in men as well.
8. HPV virus
Perhaps because the HPV virus can have more serious consequences for women (e.g. infertility), it’s often believed men can’t get HPV or that it’s not a significant problem. However, just because symptoms in men may not be so obvious, that doesn’t mean HPV can’t lead to very serious health issues. The HPV virus is linked to cancers of the head and neck, including throat cancer, as well as cancer of the genitals. Consequently, some experts believe that both girls and boys should be vaccinated against HPV.
So, if you or your partner experience symptoms which seem unusual in a man, don’t discount the possibility that the underlying problem could be a so-called “women’s illness”—seek medical help as soon as possible.