Ovarian cancer can affect anyone with ovaries, just as prostate cancer can affect anyone with a prostate. People with these reproductive organs may identify as any gender and can include men, women, transgender people and non-binary people.
While there are obvious differences in health risks when it comes to one’s reproductive organs, there are many other health conditions that affect men and women differently.
It’s not you … it’s biology
Most health conditions affect both males and females in varying degrees and ways, but our biology may not allow us to escape certain other health problems. Some conditions are sex-biased, meaning they are more prevalent in one sex versus the other.
Randy Gelow, MD, a family medicine physician at Banner Health in Phoenix, AZ said that biological factors like hormones and sex chromosomes, along with reproductive anatomy, metabolism and behavioral factors, contribute to these differences.
“The current theory is that the sex hormone estrogen is protective against many conditions while testosterone either promotes many conditions or doesn’t offer as much protection,” Dr. Gelow said. “In addition, there are some conditions that are sex chromosome-linked, such as the red/green color blindness, which is more common in men.”
Six health conditions that affect men more than women
Men may be perceived as the physically stronger gender because they are typically bigger and more muscular than women thanks to testosterone. However, when it comes to health, men are biologically weaker.
Men are more likely to experience chronic health conditions earlier than women and have shorter lives. In almost all countries around the world, women outlive men.
Although you can’t change your chromosomes and genes, knowing what you may be at higher risk for could help you start to make better decisions about your health.
Here are some of the most common health conditions that affect men more than women.
1. Heart disease
Heart disease is the: No. 1 killer of both men and women in the U.S., but men develop heart disease a decade earlier than women, on average.
“The risk factors of having heart disease can vary, but in men, this is mostly brought about by elevated cholesterol,” Dr. Gelow said. “Males and females have similar LDL (low density lipoprotein) or bad cholesterol levels, but women tend to have much higher levels of HHDL (high density lipoprotein) or good cholesterol.”
Men also tend to carry weight around their mid-section, which is a risk factor that many women simply don’t share. Women typically carry weight in their hips and thighs.
What you can do: If you have a family history of heart disease or believe you may be at risk for a heart attack, talk to your health care provider. Routine checkups can help prevent heart disease, as well as eating healthy, exercising and avoiding stress.
[Check out “5 Ways to Take Care of Your Heart.”]
2. Parkinson’s disease
Men are 1.5 times more likely to have Parkinson’s disease than women. In Parkinson’s disease, brain health and function become progressively worse over time. The muscles begin to slow and stiffen, and your body will shake uncontrollably.
Researchers aren’t yet sure why there is a difference in the rate of Parkinson’s disease between men and women, but many believe it’s a combination of factors that may contribute.
What you can do: Because the cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, there are no proven ways to prevent the disease. However, some research has shown that regular exercise and a healthy diet might help reduce your risk.
After age 50, men are more likely than women to develop melanoma, and they are also at greater risk for developing other skin cancers as well.
“Women tend to have more proper skincare regimens and be more proactive when it comes to regular skin check-ups than men,” Dr. Gelow said. “Whereas men are less likely or good at using sunscreen or seeking shade and often work more outdoor type jobs.”
What you can do: While skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis in the U.S., it’s also preventable.
It’s never too early to protect against skin cancer. Wear a broad-spectrum sunblock with an SPF of 30 or higher and wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and photo-protective clothing. Avoid going out in the sun during peak hours. And get regular, annual skin check-ups.
4. Pancreatic cancer
Men are slightly more likely to develop pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer than women. This may be due, at least in part, to higher rates of smoking in men. However, it’s estimated that 10% of pancreatic cancers are connected to genetic causes.
What you can do: Most pancreatic cancers can’t be prevented, but you can reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking (if you smoke), eating a healthy diet focused on fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, and limiting your alcohol intake.
5. Gout and kidney stones
Gout is a type of arthritis caused by too much uric acid in the body. It’s most common among men and tends to appear between the ages of 30 and 50. Women’s bodies tend to flush out uric acid, therefore gout is less likely to develop.
People with gout are also at a higher risk of developing kidney stones because urate crystals, created by extra uric acid in the body, can build up in your urinary tract and form stones.
“Often, the first sign of a gout attack is pain, redness and swelling of a joint, most commonly the big toe,” Dr. Gelow said.
What you can do: Gout is a silent disease, which means you may not be aware you have it until you experience an acute attack. To help prevent developing gout, experiencing flare-ups or developing painful kidney stones, eat less red meat, avoid alcohol, soda and sugar, drink plenty of water, and manage your weight.
[Also check out “What to Eat and Avoid to Prevent Gout Flare-Ups.”]
6. Abdominal aortic aneurysm
Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), is a ballooning of a portion of the lower part of the aorta, the largest artery in our bodies. When this artery weakens, it can form an aneurysm. The most common is an AAA. This can be fatal if it breaks or ruptures, as it causes a bleed inside your body.
Men are three to five times more likely than women to develop abdominal aortic aneurysms. It’s more common in men who smoke, are over age 65, and have high blood pressure and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
What you can do: You can’t always prevent an aneurysm from occurring, but you can quit smoking (if you smoke), maintain regular physical activity, and eat a heart-healthy diet.
“If you have smoked more than 100 cigarettes in your lifetime and are male, there is a screening test once you reach age 65 and you should talk to your health care provider about it,” Dr. Gelow said.
Takeaway: Protecting your health is gender neutral
Whatever your gender, you need to care for yourself in many of the same ways, including eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular physical exercise, not smoking, limiting alcohol, and regularly visiting your health care provider.
Women tend to be more likely to seek preventive care, but everyone should take the time to connect with their health care provider.
“Your primary health care provider can help factor in your age, sex, lifestyle and family history to help identify the types of screenings and tests you need to have done, so you can try and live a long, healthy life,” Dr. Gelow said.
Have concerns about your health or potential health risks?
Schedule an appointment with a primary care provider.