Men need to take charge of their physical and mental health

Author Michael Holtz stands with his hands in his pockets, wearing a light blue bowling shirt and blue jeans.

By Michael Holtz, Director of Partnerships and Fundraising, Man Up to Cancer

This blog post uses the term “men” to refer to cisgender men and mainly discusses questions relevant to cisgender men and/or those assigned male at birth. Resources for transgender men, non-binary people and other members of the LGBTQ+ community can be found here.

Men’s Health Month encourages men to take charge of their health in June, but that should be the reality every month and every day of the year.

The American Cancer Society estimates that one million men will be diagnosed with cancer in 2024.1 Moreover, men have higher rates of getting and dying from cancer than women. Yet women make approximately 80% of the health care decisions for their families, including their male partners or husbands.

Men need to take charge of their own health.

Every day.

The Prevent Cancer Foundation’s annual Early Detection Survey makes this clear. Among the survey’s findings:

  • Nearly 20% of men report that a relative or partner usually schedules their health care appointments.
  • 65% are behind on at least one routine cancer screening, which are available for colorectal, skin, oral and prostate cancers.
  • 36% who are behind on routine cancer screenings say they would prioritize cancer screening if faster tests were available.

My household is different than most.

I make my own health care decisions. I always have.

Heart disease and diabetes run in my family. My father died of a massive heart attack at age 48, two years after underdoing sextuple bypass surgery. Because of this experience, I have prioritized seeing a primary care physician for at least 30 years. Without a primary care physician, I would not have been referred to a gastroenterologist after I saw blood in the toilet in March 2012. The colonoscopy that followed resulted in a diagnosis of stage-3b rectal cancer. I was 43.

I have several permanent side effects from treatment, including a permanent colostomy, neuropathy in my feet, high blood pressure and hearing loss. My primary care physicians have helped me diagnose or treat some of those side effects. The good news, though, is that I have had no evidence of disease since May 2013.

Men can and should empower themselves. We should know:

  • Our medication names, doses and how often we take them.
  • What conditions we have, like high blood pressure, diabetes or gout.
  • Dates of past surgeries or serious procedures, like cardioversions.
  • Our health insurance carrier and policyholder.
  • Our family health history.

Men should also know the screening guidelines for the cancers that occur most often in men:

Mental health is as important as physical health.

Men and women develop most of the same mental health disorders and conditions, like anxiety, stress or depression, but men are less likely to seek help. As many as 77% of men have suffered mental health conditions, but 40% have never spoken about their mental health because they are embarrassed or because of stigma surrounding it. Alarmingly, men are far more likely than women to commit suicide.

Add cancer to the situation and things get even more challenging. Most support programs are designed by and for women. Culturally, men are expected to go all John Wayne and face life’s difficulties alone and without complaint.

Mental health issues and physical health issues are symptoms of being human.

We need to normalize talking about our mental health. We need to normalize talking about cancer screenings, especially the embarrassing ones that involve our butts and our balls.

Men, our lives may depend on taking charge of our health.

Michael Holtz is the director of partnerships and fundraising for Man Up to Cancer, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping men find connection and avoid isolation when facing cancer.

1American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2024. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2024.