Why Men Avoid Doctors
You feel like you’re invincible. There’s this concept of I don’t have to worry about that. I’m young I’m healthy there’s nothing wrong with me.
And while there may not be anything wrong at the time, regular doctor visits can prevent longterm problems."
-Eric Wallen, MD
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Michael Washington remembers the conversation well. His fiance was pestering him about a lump on his abdomen. She was worried. He was not.
“I was like it’s fine. It’s probably gas. No worries. It’s totally cool,” Washington said.
He agreed to get it checked before the wedding. It was something she wanted and he wanted to make her happy. It turns out that decision saved his life.
“Long story short it turned out it was an 8-pound tumor,” Washington said.
He was 26 and had stage three kidney cancer and likely had the tumor growing in him for several years. He said in hindsight he saw clues but he never went to the doctor.
“When I was about 18 I had blood in my urine but being a typical dude I was like, no big deal,” he said.
Dr. Eric Wallen is a Urology professor and doctor at UNC-Chapel Hill. He said this story is very common among men.
“Tragically often we hear that,” he said. “Somebody who says well I saw blood in my urine a couple of years ago and it went away the next day so I didn’t do anything and now they are coming to see me with some terrible tumor.”
Dr. Wallen is the director of the UNC’s Men’s Health program which started five years ago as a way to educate men about common male diseases and encourage more regular doctor visits.
A recent survey from the Cleveland Clinic found 72% of male respondents would rather be doing household chores than going to the doctor. 65% said they would avoid going to the doctor as long as possible.
“What I think happens with women is they get involved with a doctor for family planning reasons and they have regular checkups whereas men don’t have that regular relationship with a doctor over the years,” he said.
But he says it’s not just about a lack of structure for men. He thinks there’s some masculinity in play, especially in younger men.
“You feel like you’re invincible. There’s this concept of I don’t have to worry about that. I’m young I’m healthy there’s nothing wrong with me.”
And while there may not be anything wrong at the time, regular doctor visits can prevent longterm problems. The UNC men’s health program recommends men start visiting a doctor annually in their 30s to get baseline numbers for cholesterol and blood pressure and to talk about family history and the risks.
“Make it something regular,” Dr. Wallen said. “It is worth a day off or half a day off work to pay attention to your health because your family needs you.”