Men and women tend to take very different approaches to their health care. Women generally seek routine care for gynecology issues and childbearing. On the other hand, most men don’t typically have a pressing need for regular health care once they leave the pediatrician.
But self-awareness and preventive action are essential in detecting many diseases and conditions, including male-specific cancers. Engaging men, and even boys, in their health care may save them from unnecessary pain, symptoms, and treatments.
The Value of Raising Awareness of Men’s Cancers
Men’s cancers, such as prostate and testicular cancer, are not the deadliest cancers men face. But they are some of the most widespread. Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in American men — 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed in their lifetime. And testicular cancer is the most common cancer found in men ages 15 to 34.
These cancers are highly treatable. But detecting them can require proactive measures and screening — self-care actions that many men may not find familiar or comfortable. For example, young women are typically encouraged to do breast self-exams. But young men are hardly ever taught to do testicular self-exams.
“Guys are not always encouraged early on to be self-aware of their bodies or to advocate for their health,” says Salvatore (Sal) Giorgianni, PharmD, senior science advisor for the Men’s Health Network. “So, we have traditionally seen men lagging behind women in getting elective vaccinations and preventive care procedures.”
But engaging men in their health care is more important than ever. New cases of testicular cancer doubled in the last 40 years. And incidence rates for advanced-stage prostate cancer rose by up to 6% each year from 2014 to 2018.
The Role of Nurses in Men’s Health
As a nurse, you’re in a unique position to encourage and influence boys and men to be proactive with their health. Nurses serve as a trusted constant in a man’s health journey beginning early in life when they encounter nurses at school and the pediatrician’s office. And that trust doesn’t wane with age. A 2021 survey found that 81% of adults believe nurses are the most trusted professionals — ranked above physicians and grade school teachers.
“One of the greatest advantages nurses have is the esteem they hold,” Dr. Giorgianni says. “They have tremendous respect amongst men, and that’s a wonderful strength they can use.”
To increase your male patients’ engagement in cancer prevention, Dr. Giorgianni recommends implementing tactics such as:
Engaging boys and men at a young age
Nurses caring for younger men and boys should encourage them to engage in their health care. Talk to boys directly. Empower them to talk about their health instead of allowing their parent to speak for them.
Dr. Giorgianni also notes there is still a stigma associated with younger men having manipulation in genital areas. But he urges you to help de-stigmatize that at an early age. “Nurses can and should be in a position to explain to boys the importance of knowing their bodies and how to conduct a testicular self-exam,” he says.
Allowing shared decision-making
In a general practice scenario — whether you’re treating young men or older men — recognize that shared decision-making often makes men more comfortable with the health care process.
“It’s important to understand the mindset of men regarding health care,” Dr. Giorgianni says. “If they are part of the health discussion and participants in the decision making, it helps them engage and stick with it.”
Using language that resonates with boys and men
You are on the front line as a nurse and can be very influential. But you need to engage men in a way that reaches them. That often means being familiar with the language men use to express their health concerns — it’s often different from the language women might use.
Look to resources, such as Men’s Health Network, to see how they speak to men about health concerns. Use them as examples to help you learn how to effectively motivate your male patients and explain health information to them in a way that will resonate. Plus, they are a great source for your patients, too.
Creating a male-friendly clinical environment
When men come for their health appointments, the environment where they wait and receive care is just as important to them as it is to women.
Look around the spaces where you provide care. What kind of information is available? Do the brochures offer topics and artwork that might resonate with men, or are they all female-oriented? Making some changes may impact the comfort level of your male patients.
Bringing awareness to men in the community
Participating in community health events offers another opportunity to engage men. But getting them to engage at those events can be challenging.
“Just a simple blood pressure screening can be a very effective way to begin,” Dr. Giorgianni says. “Most guys do watch their blood pressure and cholesterol. During that screening, begin a dialogue and bring them into a bigger health discussion.”
He also recommends seeking out events or opportunities specific to men. Many health events occur for women at women’s organizations or clubs. Make a concerted effort to go to male-oriented clubs such as a lodge or scout meeting.
Making the men in your own life comfortable
Keeping work and home separate can help you find balance. But when it comes to the men in your life, you may want to bring this kind of work home.
“In your role as a significant other, sibling, parent, or child, you can help men understand why it’s important to take an active role in their healthcare,” Dr. Giorgianni says. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to get them invested, provide them with knowledge, and make them comfortable.”
Have you had success engaging men in their health care? We’d love to hear what worked for you. Share with us in our discussion.
*Used with permission from ANA Enterprise’s Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation, originally posted to the Healthy Nurse Healthy Nation blog.