Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

"It's Because of the Invincibility Thing": Young Men, Masculinity, and Testicular Cancer

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

"It's Because of the Invincibility Thing": Young Men, Masculinity, and Testicular Cancer

Article excerpt

Previous research on testicular cancer and testicular self-examination has not specifically examined how masculinity informs the ways in which young men think about the disease and their self-screening practices. This paper reports on the findings from two focus groups conducted with healthy blue-collar and white-collar young Australian males, who have never been diagnosed with testicular cancer. Data collected from the focus groups show that young men's adherence to "masculine" values such as stoicism, avoidance, and robustness influences their overall attitude toward health care, their preparedness to perform a testicular-self exam, their willingness to visit a physician for a testicle check-up, and the ways they might seek help if ever diagnosed with the disease. The paper also discusses the implications these findings have on education programs.

Keywords: testicular cancer, testicular self-examination, masculinity, men's health

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Men in their teens through their late thirties are those most at risk of developing testicular cancer. Indeed, it is the most common form of cancer among men under the age of 40 (Boyer, 2001). In Australia, the testicular cancer rate is currently 4.2 per 100,000, with about 550 new cases being reported each year (Boyer; Poljski, Andrews, Holden, & de Kretser, 2003); in the U.S., the incidence rate for men aged 15-34 is 8.8 per 100,000 (Brenner, Hergenroeder, Kozinetz, & Kelder, 2003), with around 7,500 new cases reported annually (Shokar, Carlson, Davis, & Shokar, 2003); more than a 1,000 new cases occur in the UK each year (Cook, 2000; Mason & Strauss, 2004b). Overall, the rate of testicular cancer morbidity is increasing in industrialized nations (Bendelow, Williams, & Oakley, 1996; Khadra & Oakeshott, 2002; Shokar et al., 2003).

There have been a number of studies on young Western men, what they know about testicular cancer (TC), and whether they do testicular self-examination (TSE). In general, these studies are based on college students and find that most young men do not know much about TC and TSE and that most do not practice TSE. (1) Research suggests that the major barriers to TSE include cultural background, embarrassment, and lack of knowledge (Cook, 2000; Poljski et al., 2003).

To date, however, little is known about how culturally dominant modes of masculinity impact on men's understanding of TC and their willingness to practice TSE. This is an area that warrants empirical examination, as an emerging body of research demonstrates that men's adherence to certain masculine behaviors and norms has significant consequences for their health outcomes (for example, see Broom, 2004; Courtenay, 2000a).

This exploratory paper reports on the qualitative findings from two focus groups conducted with healthy blue-collar and white-collar young Australian males, who have never been diagnosed with TC. The focus groups sought to determine the extent to which masculinity might inform the ways in which men understand TC and their TSE practices.

To begin, I briefly review previous research on TSE and TC and then explore the relationship between masculinity-the cultural norms, practices, and expectations associated with men-and health-related behaviors. Next, I discuss the research methods. From there, I present the findings from the focus groups. In this analysis, I demonstrate that young men negotiate and approach TSE and TC using a traditional masculine frame of reference that emphasizes stoicism and avoidance. The implications these findings have on education programs are also discussed.

Previous Research on Testicular Cancer and Testicular Self-Examination

This section considers studies that examine young men's knowledge of TC and TSE. The overwhelming finding to emerge from research in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Israel is that the majority of young men have inadequate knowledge of TC, are generally unaware of the risk factors and forms of treatment, have little knowledge about TSE, and do not practice it regularly. …

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