Men, Cancer, and Culture: How Our Culture Can Help Men Lower Their Cancer Risk | Blogs

By Demetrius M. Parker, Health Communication Specialist and Cultural Communication Strategist

To honor the men and fathers during Men’s Health Month in June, families and friends say to men and fathers of:

Demetrius Parker, DCPC Health Communication Specialist & Cultural Communication Strategist

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma: Iki Nittak Na Yukpa

Native Hawaiians: Hau’oli Lā Makuakāne

The Navajo (Diné) Nation: Nizhonigo Azhé’é Bééhániih

African Americans: Happy Father’s Day, Daddy! Happy Father’s Day, Pops!

Puerto Rican Americans: ¡Feliz día de los padres!

Above is a tiny sample of the many US cultures that hold their fathers and men in high esteem. In the United States, June is a time when we pause and celebrate men by observing Father’s Day and Men’s Health Week and Month. During June, we also celebrate cultural observances like Native American Day, National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, Immigrant Heritage Month, and Juneteenth—a new federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.

Because cancer affects men differently based on their race and ethnicity, each of June’s cultural observances offers creative opportunities for us to learn how our cultures affect our experiences with cancer.

Each of these rich cultural commemorations offers an opportunity for men and their families to reassess their lifestyles. As an African American man, I am inspired by Juneteenth to consider the freedom that good health offers me.  Juneteenth is a perfect national forum to engage African American men and examine how our cultural history influences our health. In 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech to the Medical Committee for Human Rights, saying, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Because of the legacies of enslavement and racial discrimination and marginalization, African American men still suffer disproportionately from cancer. Racism leads to cancer health disparities.

While we all have unique cultural backgrounds, the common goal for us as men is to improve our health and wellness—we want to be present and as healthy as possible to enjoy our families and friends.

Culture Affects Men’s Cancer Risk

Men, one way to be healthy and live our highest quality of life is by reviewing our behaviors. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), our behavior is rooted in our respective cultures. Similarly, NCI’s Cultural Framework for Health (CFH) states that culture drives all human behavior. This includes how our health care providers interact with patients.

“Culture informs all human behavior; it allows us to exist as social animals,” the CFH says. “Yet, no other variable used in health research is as poorly defined or tested as is culture.” We in the science community have a lot of work to do to understand how our cultures affect health.

For instance, quitting smoking is one of the best ways to lower your cancer risk. Smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body.  A CDC Vital Signs report shows that 66% more Puerto Ricans smoke than Mexicans. Why? Understanding the cultures of Puerto Rican and Mexican American men may hold answers for this difference in behavior and permit public health professionals to design more culturally relevant and effective interventions.

We see another example by studying US cancer screening rates. Colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon and rectum) is one of the most common cancers in the United States. Fortunately, screening tests can find it early or even prevent it. While only about two-thirds of people ages 50 to 75 in the United States are up-to-date with colorectal cancer screening, the percentage among American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) people is fewer than half.

Why? Culturally, trust of health care providers and health care systems is one of the factors contributing to lower screening percentage among the AI/AN communities. Also, Native Americans often have trouble getting high-quality cancer care. Delays in treatment are common, often because they may have to drive long distances.

Community-based partnerships help CDC reach out in ways that respect AI/AN customs and culture and create more trust. Working together with CDC to improve trust, staff from tribal clinics have gotten training in talking about colorectal health and in patient navigation—a system where trained workers guide people through the whole process of screening. These AI/AN staff members are the Tribal Community Health Representatives (CHRs). They work in the clinics and know the tribal area and residents.

Men Can Lower Their Cancer Risk

CDC’s US Cancer Statistics show that in the United States, cancer is the second leading cause of death for men after heart disease. Overall, more men than women get cancer and die of cancer. Every year, more than 300,000 men in the United States lose their lives to cancer. Cancer is usually caused by various factors over time, and many cancers can be prevented. Men are more likely than women to do some things that can increase a person’s chance of getting cancer, such as drinking alcohol excessively, using tobacco products, and getting too much exposure to the sun.

Men: during the month of June, let’s take a mental and emotional pause to focus on ourselves. We can all lower our chances of getting and dying from cancer while improving our overall health if we refine our lifestyle and behaviors with the following tips:

CDC offers Guides to Healthy Living for cancer survivors. If you are a cancer survivor, take your time and as you are ready, focus on these areas of physical health: nutrition, physical activity, and sleep. They are important and key to your recovery and well-being.

Because prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men in the United States, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the benefits and harms of screening for prostate cancer, including the benefits and harms of other tests and treatment. Work with your doctor to decide on the best screening plan for you.

A beneficial first step, before talking with the doctor, is to talk to Nathan. Created by CDC, Nathan is a simulated human who shares information and answers questions about prostate cancer screening and treatment. He also suggests some questions we might want to ask our doctor.

What’s your culture story? I’d love to hear and learn from you about how your culture supports your efforts to be healthy and well, including cancer survivors like Lorenzo and Lewis. We can learn from and support each other.

Additional Resources

Cancer Survivor Stories

Cancer Doesn’t Wait and Neither Should You
In this video, Dr. Lisa Richardson, Dr. Robert W. Carlson, and Dr. Laura Makaroff talk about the importance of routine cancer screenings.

Equity in Cancer Prevention and Control
Health equity is when everyone has an equal opportunity to be as healthy as possible.

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