Friday, 29 November 2013

Men's health in proportion 2: the God Doctor

You will remember that in a recent post I looked at a crowd of 100,000 men in one of the world’s largest football stadiums, and asked what they’d all eventually die of. The surprising answer was that around a fifth of them would die from heart disease and stroke, less than a 20th of them would die from prostate cancer, and around 40% of them would die from dozens and dozens of less common conditions that we rarely think about when it comes to men’s health.
Photo credit: Dieter Drescher / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Let’s take another look at this crowd, this time from the perspective of a psychic doctor who has the power to see one year into the future. Let’s call him the God Doctor (some believe he exists). When he looks down on the football crowd at a game being played in May, he can see who is going to be diagnosed with a new condition before the following May.
What he’ll find is this. Out of the crowd of 100,000 men:
  • 500 (that's one in 200) will be told they have heart disease
  • 250 will have a heart attack
  • 180 will have a stroke
  • 105 will be told they have prostate cancer 
  • 58 will be told they have lung cancer
  • 58 will be told they have bowel cancer
(The figures aren’t exact, because sadly disease incidence figures aren’t easily comparable, but it provides a rough idea).


You may look at such statistics, as I do, and draw some simple conclusions. You may say...
“Getting to grips with how I can avoid disease/keep alive, isn’t simple.”
“If I’m going to live by the law of averages on what’s going to kill me, then I’m going to concentrate on reducing my risk of stroke and heart disease. If I exercise properly, eat a varied diet and stop smoking, I’ll definitely be reducing my risk of conditions that definitely kill a lot of men – heart disease and stroke.”
“If I do that, it’s very likely that I’ll reduce my risk of all those other conditions, like many cancers, where smoking, diet and exercise may play a part.” All good thinking so far. Entirely sensible.
But then you might think some more about these statistics and the statistics about mortality in the previous post and start to get confused. With prostate cancer, for example, it looks as if there’s a reasonable chance of me getting it, but much less of a chance of me dying from it. And you might start to wonder whether statistics can be used from many perspectives, according to what message you want to give the public.
Most of all, your confusion might result in one big question. What about me? It’s all very well having these averages for populations, but what if you’re my age, with my parents, in my country, with my background? What if some diseases actually hold more fears for you: should that be ignored?
Good point. I’d like to talk about that some more, because in this age of “personalised medicine”, we’re absolutely rubbish at personalising information to make it useful. More in another post.