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In Terms of Men’s Health, Are Scientists Researching Anything That Isn’t Prostate Cancer?

Because you wouldn’t know it from reading the news

A quick scroll through sites reporting on male health topics — say, the men’s health section of ScienceDaily — will reveal one very important fact: Scientists sure are spending a lot of time researching prostate cancer. On the aforementioned page, in fact, 18 of the 20 stories on the homepage are about prostate cancer (sample selection: “Aggressive Prostate Cancer Eradicated in Mice”; “Metastatic Prostate Cancer Cases Skyrocket”; “How to Fight Side Effects of Hormone Therapy for Prostate Cancer”; “New Mechanisms in Prostate Cancer”; “Detecting Prostate Cancer Recurrence Early,” etc., etc., etc.)

Which, I suppose, makes a certain amount of sense, considering that prostate cancer is one of the few ailments that’s unique to men. It’s also the second most common cancer among men, after skin cancer: About one in nine men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime.

There’s also the fact that cancer tends to be a favorable research topic when it comes to grants and funding: As of 2018, prostate cancer research has been awarded a whopping $41,087,002. Similarly, philanthropic groups have done a great job boosting the amount of funding granted to prostate cancer research. The Prostate Cancer Foundation alone has produced a 20-fold increase in government funding for prostate cancer. And last year, the Defense Department’s Prostate Cancer Research Program received a $10 million funding boost after the Senate passed the 2017 Defense Appropriations Bill, which might help explain why we’re currently being flooded by prostate cancer research.

But why are researchers and philanthropic groups seemingly not as interested in, say, penile cancer, which is also unique to men? Well, that’s probably because penile cancer is extremely rare: It’s diagnosed in less than one out of every 100,000 men each year and accounts for less than one percent of cancers in men across the U.S. Therefore, pouring funds into penile cancer research would help fewer people than tackling a more widespread ailment (like prostate cancer).

Surely, though, researchers are hard at work analyzing other aspects of men’s health, besides the one that may or may not involve an uncomfortable exploratory exam some time around a man’s 40th birthday?

Admittedly, erectile dysfunction (ED) certainly seems to be a popular research topic: Researchers conduct five times more studies into ED than PMS — that’s despite the fact that approximately 19 percent of men suffer from ED, while 90 percent of women experience symptoms of PMS. (Premature ejaculation, on the other hand, receives very little attention from researchers — because getting hard is apparently more of a priority than staying hard.)

Men’s mental health also appears to be in for a research boom — the website for the Men’s Health Research Department at the University of British Columbia lists “online strategies for managing and preventing depression” even ahead of its section devoted to prostate cancer. This, of course, is a long time coming: According to Psychology Today, “Men make up more than 75 percent of suicide victims in the United States, with one man killing himself every 20 minutes.”

“The U.S. needs a local and national strategy to deal with the huge gap in mental health resources and research for socially disadvantaged and marginalized men and boys,” Wizdom Powell, a prominent psychological scientist and director of the Health Disparities Institute at UConn Health, recently told UConn Today. “Without a coordinated strategy, the U.S. will hemorrhage talent and lose its competitive edge. An important first step would be to allocate resources to establish an Office of Men’s Health.”

With more and more experts stating that men’s mental health deserves more scientific attention, we can hopefully expect a boost in research funding on the topic that at least equals that being spent on prostate cancer.

It really is about time we pulled our heads out of our asses — so to speak.