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Cancer: Why do men have a higher risk?

While statistics vary by country, there is consistent evidence that men are more likely to get cancer, and die from it, compared to women. According to the Canadian Cancer Society’s Canadian Cancer Statistics 2017 publication, the lifetime probability of developing cancer is 49% for men and 45% for women, and the probability of dying from cancer is 28% for men and 24% for women.

With an almost 1 in 2 chance for both men and women to develop cancer in their lifetime, it’s important for both sexes to mitigate risk factors, but why the increased risk for men?

The reason for this difference is not clear-cut and many theories abound, such as:

  • Lifestyle factors: Many credit a higher risk of cancer for men to their being more likely than women to encounter carcinogens through cigarette smoking or auto body and factory work. Heavier weight, greater inactivity, and higher alcohol consumption for men were also cited. (However, women are catching up to men in terms of unhealthy lifestyles.)
  • Willingness to seek care: Another factor that has been credited for this disparity is that women typically have frequent contact with health professionals. Men, on the other hand, are less likely to seek medical care unless there is a significant reason for concern, such as pain or other more obvious symptoms. This makes it easier to miss early signs of cancer.


The top three most diagnosed cancers for men are: prostate, colorectal, and lung. While they each have their own specific risk factors, a diet high in vegetables and fruit and low in fat and red meat can help lower risk for all three cancer types. Maintaining an active lifestyle and healthy weight, quitting smoking, and lowering alcohol consumption can also mitigate risk.

However, it’s also very important to speak to your health care practitioner about your risks and report any changes in your overall health. For cancer information and lists of risk factors, visit the Canadian Cancer Society website.


Canadian Cancer Society (2017) Canadian Cancer Statistics 2017. Canadian Cancer Society’s Advisory Committee on Cancer Statistics . 2017 June. Accessed May 22, 2018.

Cook, M.B., et al. (2009) “Sex disparities in cancer incidence by time period and age.” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 2009 Apr; 18(4): 1174–1182.

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