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Men's Health

'Women's' Diseases Men Get, Too

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

Here's how to cope better if you come down with one of these ailments -- or any chronic health problem.

  • Find support. Check your local hospital for support groups for men with chronic diseases in general, Courtenay says. "Men have less social support than women do. They have fewer friendships and smaller social networks. And people who have less support don't do as well coping with disease." You can also find health-related groups online, where you're more likely to find men with rare diseases.
  • Build a new identity. Every guy someday has to cope with losing an element that makes him feel like a man. Muscles shrink, hairlines recede, and some parts may not always work the way they used to. But just as men might like having more time for home projects and parenting after they lose a job, you may enjoy seeking new challenges after disease jolts your identity, even though it's a situation you never would have wanted. "Men who forge a new identity often feel like a new person, a person they really like. They may feel like they're living a less restricted life," Courtenay says.
  • Plan. If you suspect your ailment is going to lead to embarrassing discussions, think about how you can stay in control of these moments. Remember, your health is your business. Who you tell, and when, is your call.

Mautner, 59, who works at a pharmaceutical company by day and as a wedding DJ in his spare time, has never been ashamed of the scar on his hairy chest. Now cancer-free for five years, he welcomes the chance to share his story to educate people. "I'm not embarrassed about it. It's just something that happened to me, and it's not what I'm all about."

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Reviewed on August 23, 2011

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