Christine Webber

About 20 years ago, I came up with an idea for a book on men’s health.

My editor loved the concept, and I was all set to make a start when the publisher’s marketing department objected to it.

They said: “We’d never sell enough copies to make it worthwhile. Most men don’t buy or read anything about health”. 

I was reminded of this recently when a relative of mine had surgery for prostate cancer. This man is someone who’s sensible and has had regular prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests, so his disease was caught early, and the prognosis is good. 

But the operation was hardly a walk in the park, and neither were the side-effects, so he decided to advise his closest male friends and family members to get tested regularly. 

Four of those men took his advice to heart, went for check-ups, and discovered they had elevated PSA levels. I hope they’re grateful to my relative as he may have saved their lives.

They’re now being monitored, so with luck they’ll be OK. However, some of his mates refused to go to the doctor and one actually said: “I’d prefer not to know”. 

This is madness, but nothing new. Traditionally, men have tended to avoid or delay seeing a doctor about health worries. 

My friend Dr Max Pemberton wrote on this subject quite forcefully in a recent column: “…the brutal reality is that men die, on average, four years younger than women – and this is, in part, down to the fact that they tend to present with cancers later. Indeed, with all the common cancers that affect both sexes, men are more likely to die”.

And this week, I’ve discovered an interesting website ( which has posted results of a survey into why – even in this day and age – men won’t go to the doctor.

The top reason, it seems, is embarrassment. But I’d like to remind all my male readers that sometimes braving your embarrassment can mean the difference between living and dying. 

Prostate cancer is a major risk as men age. In fact, it has now overtaken breast cancer as the most commonly diagnosed cancer in England.

And 95% of all sufferers are between 45 and 80.  

Suffolk based journalist and broadcaster, the much-missed Bill Turnbull, ignored various symptoms and so by the time he went to a doctor, his cancer was well-advanced.

He was a lovely person, and dedicated the rest of his life to publicising the disease and urging other men to get tested earlier than he did. He also became an ambassador for Prostate Cancer UK. 

Testicular cancer is another “below the waist” disease that men need to look out for, but this is much more common in the young, as the brilliant jockey Bob Champion found when he fell ill with it at the height of his fame in 1979.

I was fortunate to be asked to interview him in the early ’80s and he was passionate about promoting the need for guys to check themselves regularly. He really put the disease on the map.  

Thankfully, not only did he survive but his career continued to flourish. However, I suspect he might regard his finest achievement as speaking candidly about testicular cancer – because he made it so much easier and more normal for men to talk about it.

He must have saved countless lives and his trust has raised millions of pounds for cancer research. 

But of course, it’s not just physical illness that men tend not to take seriously.

It’s a huge tragedy in this country just how many men suffer mental illness in private and, alas, far too frequently take their own lives. In fact, the rate of male suicide in the UK is three times that of females. 

I’m sure we all know of someone who has killed himself, and it feels such an unnecessary and painful loss. Everyone should remember that the Samaritans ( never close and are an unfailing source of help and support: 

So, this column is my small attempt to persuade male readers to take courage in both hands when they have inexplicable symptoms and suspect that things just aren’t right.

If this applies to you at the moment, please resist telling yourself it’s nothing and will pass and that it would be better not to “bother” the doctor. Instead, conquer your embarrassment and put effort into getting a medical appointment, even if it’s not easy.  

Finally, we women have a role too.

We need to watch our partners and our sons and our brothers, because we are the ones who are most likely to notice that all is not well.

And when that happens, we must encourage them to stop being stoical and to seek medical advice, so they can be with us for many years to come.