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'Women's' Diseases Men Get, Too

What it's like to be a man with breast cancer, lupus, or osteoporosis.

Lupus: One Man Per Nine Women

For centuries, doctors have known that autoimmune diseases are more common in women, says Fotios Koumpouras, MD, a lupus specialist at the West Penn Allegheny Health System in Pittsburgh. The difference might be due to the way estrogen levels affect the immune system in women and men.

Among young people, lupus affects females especially heavily, he says. In our 50s and beyond, women still account for most cases, but men start to catch up. His older patients tend to be more concerned that they've developed a disease that pops up more in women. "I have 19-year-old men with lupus who don't care, per se," Koumpouras says. "The 55-year-old men may be a bit more traditional. You can sometimes feel there's a bit of reticence or embarrassment on their part over the diagnosis," he says.

Men tend to have more serious cases of the disease than women, Koumpouras says, and it's often especially severe in young men. However, men typically respond as well to treatments - which are mostly the same for men and women -- and the risk of death from the disease is similar.

Osteoporosis: One Man Per Four Women

If a man responds with disbelief when he learns he has osteoporosis, it's understandable, says Pamela Taxel, MD, of the University of Connecticut Health Center. Even doctors don't always have the disease on their radar screens with male patients, says Taxel, who is interested in men's bone health. And "if our knowledge of osteoporosis in women is in its middle-age years, in men it's still in its preteen years," Taxel says.

Guys can get this problem when their natural supply of bone-building testosterone dwindles with age. That's one reason. Decreasing estrogen levels might play a role, too, she tells WebMD.

In about half of cases, a doctor can find the reason for a man's bone loss. Steroid drugs such as cortisone and prednisone, which are used for treating some chronic diseases, can put men at risk. So can testosterone-reducing drugs used for prostate cancer. Smoking and too much alcohol can also set the stage.

Men with osteoporosis may need to take testosterone to treat the problem if their own levels are low (and prostate cancer isn't a concern). And they can take many of the bone-building drugs that are FDA-approved for men and women, Taxel says.

Dealing With Your Diagnosis

In general, "We know that men use less effective coping strategies when confronted with disease," no matter what the problem is, says Will Courtenay, PhD, a psychologist who focuses on men's health and is the author of Dying to Be Men.

"Many men feel like their bodies should work like a well-oiled machine. When anything goes wrong with it, they can feel like less of a man," he says. A guy who feels like he's in line with a group of women waiting for treatment might feel even more out of sorts.

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