Most Americans probably know that the women among them face a 1 in 6 lifetime risk for breast cancer. What’s less well-known is that men’s corresponding risk for prostate cancer is 1 in 5. Even as awareness and funding have risen for breast cancer, prostate cancer languishes somewhere between Viagra jokes and vague memories of Bob Dole going public.
The reasons for this have a lot to do with masculinity. Both of these cancers affect people’s sexuality profoundly and irrevocably. Since the 1970s, women have become adept at body talk, even on such uncomfortable issues, while the rules of masculinity demand men maintain a tough front and keep silent, especially when it comes to sexual performance.
I’ve heard prostate cancer patients grouse about how much better-funded breast cancer is, as if funding was showered upon them because everyone wants to protect the ladies. Truth is, that funding materialized only after breast cancer survivors cast off the taboos around the disease, went public, got organized, and lobbied stubbornly until it was easier for lawmakers to say yes than no. Prostate cancer survivors will have to do something similar. Both diseases need and deserve more funding, and it ought not to be a zero-sum game where the two causes get played against each other.
Now there’s a petition circulating that aims to put the issue on our next administration’s policy agenda. The nonprofit group behind it, Malecare, hopes to gather over 100,000 signatures and present it to our next president the day after inauguration. Among other things, it states:
Breast and Prostate Cancer scientists should not be made to compete for limited research funding. Scientists must feel encouraged to develop prostate cancer research. Both Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer research funding must continue to grow. Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer patients, equal in number, should receive equal and adequate funding and promotion for research.
If you’re moved to sign, the petition is here. Yeah, it’s just a petition. But it’s a start.