Research shows that lung cancer rates are rising for women but falling for men and this isn't the only difference in male and female health.
The latest research on life expectancy shows that women are still living longer than men – with an impressive average life span of 83 years versus 79 for their male counterparts.
Look deeper, though, and there are many more subtle differences between the sexes when it comes to certain health conditions and susceptibility to disease. Read our top-to-toe guide with tips on reducing your risk factors for these major conditions – whatever your sex.
Although cases of melanoma – the most deadly form of the disease - are around 50:50 in both sexes, the sites of cancer tend to differ, with men most often getting it on their chest or back and women on their legs or arms. Men also have twice the mortality rate after a diagnosis.
Why? The different distribution of skin cancers in men and women come down to which parts are exposed to most sunshine over a lifetime. There may also be biological reasons behind why men and women’s bodies deal with melanomas in different ways but Cancer Research UK suggests the variance in death rates could be partly because men tend to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage, due to a greater reluctance to see their GP. Moles on the back are also more difficult to spot by yourself.
Reduce your risk: Use SPF15-20 in the sun and opt for shade between 11am and 3pm. Check your moles regularly and see your GP straightaway with any changes in size, colour or shape, itching or bleeding. Ask a partner or friend to check your back.
This bone-thinning disease is strongly associated with women, with 75% of all hip osteoporosis cases suffered by them. However, one in five men over 50 will also develop the condition but they may go undiagnosed because most GPs also see it as a woman’s complaint.
Why? Women start with lower bone density than their male peers and they lose bone mass more quickly as they age, especially after the menopause, thanks to the drop in the bone-protective oestrogen.
Reduce your risk : Eat plenty of calcium-rich dairy foods and consider taking a vitamin D supplement, as most people in the UK are low in this bone-strengthening nutrient. Spending 30 minutes a day doing weight-bearing exercise – that’s anything where you support your own body weight, such as aerobics or brisk walking – will also help to build stronger bones.
Stomach cancer & bowel cancer
Around three-quarters of stomach cancer cases are found in men, while there are 75 new bowel cancer cases for every 100,000 males, compared to 56 for every 100,000 females.
Why? In the past, studies have focused on whether men’s habits were to blame – particularly eating more meat and drinking more alcohol. But now research is looking at whether the female hormone oestrogen may have a protective effect, perhaps by reducing gastric inflammation that can lead to precancerous lesions in the digestive system.
Reduce your risk: See your GP if you notice bleeding from the bottom, stomach pain or a change in bowel habits lasting more than three weeks. After 60, take part in free bowel cancer screening. Call National Bowel Cancer Screening on 0800 707 6060 if you’ve not yet received a test kit.
Despite the fact men have more heart attacks than women, death rates by gender are actually 50:50. This is because women are more likely to die if they have a heart attack.
Why? Women benefit from the heart-protective effect of oestrogen before the menopause, but after it their risk becomes even higher than a man of the same age. Until the age of 45, more men than women have high blood pressure – a risk factor for heart disease – but by the time they’re 70, women, on average, have higher.
Reduce your risk : Lose weight if you need to, stop smoking and get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked yearly after the age of 40 – younger if early heart disease runs in your family.
Not only do more women have stokes than men, women who survive strokes have a worse quality of life than male survivors, a US study found last month.
Women reported more problems with mobility, pain and depression three months on from suffering a stroke, with the greatest gender difference seen in those over 75.
Why? A big factor is simply that stroke risk goes up with age and women live longer. The reasons why women don’t fare as well following a stroke, however, aren’t certain. It may be a combination of women having less muscle mass than men before their strokes, making it harder to recover mobility, and the fact they’re more likely to be living alone after 65 without support.
Reduce your risk: Stopping smoking slashes your risk of suffering a stroke by half, while getting your blood pressure checked is vital as untreated high blood pressure is a major factor.