Pink: An New Color for Men’s Health?

Pink is a new fall color as it can be seen everywhere. Every Saturday and Sunday in October, football fields are filled with players, coaches, and referees wearing pick caps, towels, sweatbands, socks, and cleats. These pink-hued accessories are worn in an effort to raise awareness about breast cancer, a disease that has a devastating affect on countless families and communities in the United States. Pink as the official color of breast cancer awareness seems fitting, as the overwhelming majority of individuals diagnosed with breast cancer are women. However, it is encouraging that men seem comfortable wearing pink these days because there are roughly 6 men who are also diagnosed with breast cancer every day. According to the American Cancer Society, it is expected that 2,360 males will have been diagnosed with breast cancer by the end of this year. The risk for a man having breast cancer over a lifetime is approximately 1 in 1000. These odds seem very remote until one considers the odds of dying in a car accident (1 in 4000).
Breast cancer is also a health risk for men and it is particularly important that men understand the risk factors because they often are not regularly screened for the disease. Age, being overweight, regular alcohol use, and family history are all factors that can increase a man’s risk for developing breast cancer. Two of these risk factors are noteworthy because of recent discoveries. Breakthroughs in genetic research have found that men who inherit abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have an elevated risk for breast cancer compared to those males without these genetic abnormalities. The lesson here is that men who have breast cancer in their family might want to discuss this with their health care provider at their next check up. The second risk factor of note, weight status, is one that men can address through lifestyle adjustments. Researchers have found that being overweight can increase the production of a hormone (estrogen) to levels that place individuals at risk for abnormal breast cell growth that can be associated with the initiation and progression breast cancer.
Excess weight has become a concern for minority men in recent years, as this group has had sharp increases in the number of individuals who are overweight and obese. Currently, 40 percent of African American men over 40 years of age can be classified as obese which means that a group with high risks for health problems can be even more likely to be stricken with chronic diseases including cancer earlier and die prematurely. Changing these odds requires a team effort because altering dietary and physical activity patterns is not easy. Lifestyle changes often require others around us to change their behaviors as well. Better health for one can lead to better health for all.
There are no greater examples of the process and possibilities for positive change than Ole Miss and Mississippi State football. Two coaches came into programs requiring change and they changed the environment by working with their players, coaches and fans. The same type of effort is required to change the health profile of men in Mississippi. It can be done and we can do it. It can begin with the recognition that the pink we see on our favorite team’s uniforms is not only about breast cancer in women or women’s health more generally. It is a color for men’s health as well.

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