A recovering alcoholic, Jeffery Amos knows first-hand the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. Now a men’s health advocate for the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation in Inuvik, Amos uses his experiences to encourage his clients to take proactive measures to protect their health.
“This means being active, staying active, eating healthier fresh foods,” he said. “In the last few years, I’ve taken it upon myself to see a doctor every six months and I do a regular medical check-up. I’ve tried hard to encourage men in general to try to limit or even avoid drinking alcohol or smoking.”
Amos and the territory’s chief medical officer, Dr. Andre Corriveau, came together to address issues impacting men’s health on Sept. 14, in recognition of Men’s Cancer Health Awareness Month.
“Men’s Cancer Health Awareness Month is not only about cancer, it’s about men reflecting on ways to improve overall health and wellness for their benefit and for the benefit of their families, their children and their grandchildren,” Amos said.
The trouble: men are statistically less likely to take preventative action in regards to their health.
“It’s been our experience over the years that men tend to come late for screenings, they don’t participate as much in screening programs,” Corriveau said.
Health professionals recommend patients begin routine screenings around age 50 unless there is a family history of disease in which case, they should consult their family physician about starting earlier.
“We know that, especially in many of our small communities, participation in screening activities is low,” Corriveau noted. “We don’t even reach 20 per cent of people after the age of 50 for colorectal screening.”
Because of this, men are more likely to ask for help once they are already experiencing symptoms, leading to a high rate of diagnosis, often at more advanced stages of cancer or chronic disease.
This could be attributed to the socialized expectations of men, Amos said.
“As men there are expectations for us to be strong and to be protectors of our family and our traditions, to always be in control and never show vulnerability.”
High rates of alcoholism and smoking in the NWT are also linked to many chronic conditions.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death amongst men in the North after stroke and heart disease, according to Corriveau. The three most commonly diagnosed cancers in men are prostate, colorectal cancers and lung cancer, the latter being the most deadly, causing 26 per cent of all cancer-related deaths in the territory. Smoking rates in the NWT are believed to be about twice the national average.
“(Smoking) is still the main preventative factor for cancer overall, not just here in the North, but across the world,” Corriveau said. “I think many people are not aware of the role of alcohol and the increase in cancer risk.”
The Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse guidelines recommends no more than two drinks a day and 10 per week for women, and three drinks a day and 15 per week for men. A drink is defined as a glass of wine or a single beer.
“We have one of the highest rates of alcohol consumption in Canada, in particular binge drinking, which is really problematic,” Corriveau said. “Men are 3.5 times more likely to be heavy frequent drinkers, the category where you consume five or more drinks in one sitting.”
About 24 per cent of males in the NWT identify themselves as frequent drinkers.
GNWT taking action
During the next session of the Legislative Assembly, the Department of Health and Social Services is hoping to pass the territory’s first cancer strategy.
“We are placing a strong emphasis on how to support NWT residents to lead a healthy lifestyle and reduce their cancer risk,” Corriveau said.
With the holistic strategy, HSS looks to make the entire cancer journey better for patients, from providing more access to screenings to improving recovery and palliative services.
“We were quite inspired, and influenced in a way, by the five cancer sharing circles we had over the last two-and-a-half years, where we heard from communities and from patients and from families on the experience and what needed to be included.”