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.
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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.
Lung cancer rates among women in the UK have risen by 73% since 1975, while male rates have fallen by 47%.
Why? Although overall smoking rates are dropping, for the first time ever, female smokers now outnumber male smokers in some areas, including the North East.
Research shows women are less successful at quitting, plus oestrogen is suspected to increase women’s susceptibility to lung cancer, which may explain why female smokers are three times more likely to develop lung cancer than their male counterparts.
Reduce your risk: As nine out of 10 cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking, quit now. Your risk will drop immediately and after 10 years it will be half that of a smoker.
Visit quit.org.uk for advice on giving up. And see your GP with any cough that lasts longer than three weeks.
“Although the common perception is that women suffer from varicose veins more than men, community studies actually show both sexes have them in roughly the same proportion,” says London specialist Professor Mark Whiteley.
Why? These protruding and often painful veins are hereditary and will affect some 40% of the population, regardless of sex, at some point during their lifetime.
Reduce your risk: Get your legs checked by a doctor if you’re concerned.
While there are 50,000 new cases per year among women, only around 350 men a year develop breast cancer in the UK.
Why? Many scientists believe that breast cancer risk is linked to lifetime oestrogen exposure and women naturally have much higher levels. Interestingly, men with breast cancer often develop it because of an increase in oestrogen or decrease in testosterone, due to obesity or diseases of their liver or reproductive organs.
Reduce your risk: If breast or ovarian cancer has struck more than once in your close family, talk to your GP about genetic screening to see if you carry one of the high-risk genes. See your GP immediately if you notice any changes in the size, shape or feel of your breasts.
Women are up to four times as likely as men to contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Why? The lining of the vagina is thinner and more delicate than the skin of the penis, making it easier for bacteria and viruses to penetrate the body.
Reduce your risk : The best prevention is to use a condom every time you have sex.
Colds and flu
Recent research suggests that women are less likely to catch cold and flu viruses than men.
Why? One study by Stanford University last year found that women had more active immune systems, thanks to their high levels of the hormone oestrogen, which appears to boost their ability to battle flu bugs. Men, meanwhile, have a weaker immune response because testosterone has a damping effect on the way their bodies fight viruses.
Reduce your risk : Wash your hands regularly as research shows you’re most likely to pick up a cold by touching an infected person’s hands or from contact with surfaces that they’ve touched, such as door handles.
Women are two-thirds more likely to become depressed than men, yet male suicide rates are three times higher.
Why? Women are exposed to different hormones, levels of which fluctuate constantly during their lifetime – from puberty to the menopause. Some experts believe these hormonal shifts act as a trigger for depression, explaining why women often experience low mood around the time of their periods, after childbirth or during the menopause.
On the other hand, figures show that women are more likely to seek help for depression than men, who are more prone to bottling up their negative feelings until they are overwhelmed by them.
Reduce your risk: See your GP at the first signs of depression, such as low mood, lack of motivation, feelings of helplessness, disturbed sleep or appetite, or suicidal thoughts. Studies show exercising four times a week can be just as effective as anti-depressants in treating mild depression.
More men die from liver disease than women (60% versus 40%). But women can suffer serious liver damage after relatively low alcohol consumption.
Why? Men still typically drink more alcohol, but figures show women are catching up – and have less of the enzyme needed to break down alcohol in the body, along with a higher body fat content, meaning they’re less able to dilute alcohol. As a result, drink for drink, women end up with more alcohol in their bloodstream and therefore higher levels reaching the liver.
Reduce your risk: Men should drink no more than 21 units per week and women 14. In practice, this means no more than three to four units per day for men (one and a half pints) and two to three units (two small glasses of wine) for women. At least two booze-free days per week is also recommended.
These unsightly lumps at the base of the big toe are 10 times more common in women than men.
Why? They tend to run in families and are triggered by the sort of shoes women love – narrow-toed shapes, which force the toes too close together and high heels that tip the body’s weight forward, forcing the toes into the front of the shoe.
Reduce your risk: For everyday wear, chose wider shoes with heels no higher than an inch.