Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: Men's health

Fighting men's cancers with facial hair

October 28, 2009 | 12:47 pm

Moustache A campaign to raise the public's awareness of prostate and testicular is underway around the world, although it's perhaps not noticeable just yet. The annual event, called Movember, encourages men to grow moustaches for the month of November and for women to like it (at least for one month). Mo is slang for moustache.

Launched in 2003 in Australia, the event has become a worldwide phenomenon and has raised $47 million to support education and research, including support of the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Men can register to join the campaign at During November, $1 from the sale of each Dermalogica Shave retail product will be donated to the cause.

After a month of pink (breast cancer awareness), a little facial hair doesn't seem too much to ask. Prostate cancer will be diagnosed in one of six men during their lifetime. Testicular cancer is the most common cancer afflicting men ages 18 to 35.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Movember participants

Macho men: Too tough for healthcare?

August 10, 2009 |  2:30 pm

Macho1 Middle-age men who value masculinity are almost 50% less likely than other men to go to the doctor for preventive care, such as regular check-ups, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Assn. in San Francisco.

The study found some interesting trends. Men with strong masculine beliefs who worked in blue-collar jobs were more likely to report obtaining care than other men -- the one exception to the findings. But highly educated macho men were just as unlikely to obtain preventive health care as low-educated macho men. Most research suggests that people with more education have better healthcare habits.

The study involved 1,000 men who participated in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. The men were white, middle-aged and had at least a high school degree -- a narrow population that limits the study's applicability to all men.

But the research hints at the stereotypical tough-guy image having a negative effect on men's health, the lead author of the study, Kristen W. Springer, said in a news release.

"This research strongly suggests that deep-seated masculinity beliefs are one core cause of men's poor health, inasmuch as they reduce compliance with recommended preventative health services," said Springer, of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. "These findings provide some insight into the persistent gender paradox in health whereby men have a lower life expectancy at birth relative to women, despite having higher socioeconomic resources."

-- Shari Roan

Photo: Clarence Williams  /  Los Angeles Times

Professional football in L.A.? Only if we learn to relax

March 28, 2009 |  7:15 am

Perhaps the risks are just too great for L.A. to have its own professional football team.

Researchers at Good Samaritan Hospital here have analyzed the number of total deaths -- plus those deaths specifically linked to heart disease and heart attacks -- in Los Angeles County in specific Super Bowl time periods. And don't let it be said that Angelenos don't care about pro football.

In comparing the effects of wins and losses on fans,  cardiologist Dr. Robert A. Kloner and his colleagues parsed the numbers from game day -- plus 14 days after.

Which Super Bowls?

In 1980, when the L.A. Rams played the Pittsburgh Steelers -- and L.A. lost.

In 1984, when the L.A. Raiders played the Washington Redskins -- and L.A. won.

And the 2000 through 2004 games, when Los Angeles didn't have a football team and thus had to live vicariously, and safely as it turns out, through other cities' Super Bowls.

Deaths were higher when L.A. lost. The researchers surmise that emotional stress may play a role.

More detailed results were to be announced today at the American College of Cardiology Conference in Orlando.

And, lest you think that Angelenos are somehow more susceptible to emotional stress than sports fans in other cities, check out this recent study, Cardiovascular events during World Cup soccer, in the New England Journal of Medicine. German soccer fans, it turns out, take the World Cup fairly seriously.

Those researchers concluded: "Viewing a stressful soccer match more than doubles the risk of an acute cardiovascular event. In view of this excess risk, particularly in men with known coronary heart disease, preventive measures are urgently needed."

Of course, passing on the whole pro-football thing wouldn't reduce similar risks posed by the basketball playoffs or USC's Rose Bowl forays or...

Maybe mandatory yoga at halftime?

-- Tami Dennis

Marijuana use and testicular cancer

February 9, 2009 |  4:54 pm

Young men who began using marijuana as adolescents or who smoked pot at least once a week were twice as likely as those who never used the drug to develop testicular cancer, according to researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

PotThe association was strongest with nonseminoma, an aggressive, fast-growing subtype of testicular cancer that typically strikes men between ages 20 and 35.

"It's not just that you develop testicular cancer, but you develop a worse type of testicular cancer," said Dr. Glen Justice, director of the cancer center at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, who was not involved with the study.

About 40% of testicular cancers are nonseminomas. The rest are slower-growing seminomas, which tend to occur a decade or two later, when men are in their 30s and 40s. Since the 1950s, both kinds have increased by 3% to 6% a year in the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Various studies have looked for environmental or lifestyle changes that could account for the increase. The study published online today in the journal Cancer was the first to look at marijuana, its authors said.

Researchers interviewed 371 men aged 18 to 44 who had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. They interviewed an additional 979 men of the same age group and from the same three Washington counties who did not have cancer.

The researchers found a 70% higher risk of testicular cancer in those who were using pot at the time of diagnosis, with an even higher risk associated with younger age at first use and frequency of use. Hormonal changes during puberty are thought to make that a particularly vulnerable period for environmental influences.

The findings were independent of known risk factors such as undescended testes and a family history of testicular cancer, and adjusted for cigarette smoking and alcohol use.

The senior author of the study, epidemiologist Janet R. Daling, got the idea to look at marijuana after learning that the testes, like the brain, have receptors for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical component of the marijuana high.

The researchers did not know why the association was seen with nonseminoma but not seminoma, because both subtypes have increased. In the U.S., the rise in seminoma has outpaced that in nonseminoma, but the opposite is true in the Netherlands.

Whether slow-growing or aggressive, testicular cancer is highly curable, Justice said, especially when detected early.

--Mary Engel

Photo credit: Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times

Bad boss? Your heart may feel the heat

November 25, 2008 | 10:33 am

Anyone who's been in the job market long enough has sooner or later worked for a bad boss -- the kind, perhaps, who makes you start awake at 3 in the morning to fret about the day ahead or the horrible day that just happened.

A new study suggests such bosses may increase the risk of a heart attack among employees, a finding that fits with other research on the effect of stress and powerlessness on physical health. (See, for example, the famous Whitehall II study.)

The latest study, published online today in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, tracked 3,122 working Swedish men ages 19 and 70 at the study's start. Their health was checked between 1992 and 1995 and their heart health outcomes tracked all the way up to 2003. At the start of the study the men were also asked to rate their managers' leaderships skills for such issues as -- per the paper -- "consideration for individual employees, provision of clarity in goals and role expectations, supplying information and feedback, ability to carry out changes at work successfully, and promotion of employee participation and control."

During the period of time that was monitored, there had been 74 cases of ischemic heart disease (problems caused by narrow heart arteries, such as angina and heart attacks). Higher leadership scores were associated with a lower heart disease risk -- and the longer an employee worked at the same job with a good manager the lower his risk became. And vice versa.

The researchers do note the possibility that the heart outcomes may have more to do with the personality of the people doing the rating -- after all, the bad-boss-good-boss perceptions were made by the employees themselves.

But, they write in their paper, "if the association is causal, this study suggests that interventions aimed at improving the psychosocial work environment and preventing ischaemic heart disease among employees could focus on concrete managerial behaviors, such as the provision of clear work objectives, information and sufficient control in relation to responsibilities."

Of course, one can think of other good reasons management might want to improve workforce leadership skills -- such as making a workplace more pleasant (even if people aren't going to have heart attacks) and enhancing team performance. 

-- Rosie Mestel

Boys and dating violence

October 15, 2008 |  1:21 pm

We think we know who they are, these teenage boys who abuse their girlfriends. But despite multiple studies on the consequences of dating violence for girls, researchers know little about the factors that lead a boy to hurt a girl. Researchers have known that as many as one in three teens reports Violence2 experiencing violence in a dating situation, and teen boys who are violent in dating relationships are likely to be substance abusers, or to have traditional attitudes toward females, like that girls should do what they're told.

A new study, appearing online in the September American Journal of Men's Health, looked a little further into the lives of violent boys. And they found some common themes.

"The themes that often came up in interviews included problematic home environments, inadequate support at school, community contexts characterized by violence and peer interactions that encourage the sexual maltreatment of girls," lead author Elizabeth Miller said in a news release. "The findings of our study suggest that it will not be effective to focus on the influence of one of these contexts alone."

She is now doing research on a practical application of changing violent behavior called Coaching Boys into Men, sponsored by the Family Violence Prevention Fund, which is establishing such a program in Sacramento, near the UC Davis Children's Hospital, where she is a professor of pediatrics. Violence prevention, she says, has to meet teens literally in the places where they hang out.

-- Susan Brink

Illustration credit: Igor Kopelnitsky / For The Times

Radio waves from cellphones damage sperm, study says

September 19, 2008 | 11:50 am

Cellphone1Attention male cellphone users of reproductive age: Take that phone out of your pocket. Information published today suggests that the radio-frequency energy released by cellphones decreases sperm quality in men.

Last year, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic released a study showing that men who used their cellphones for more than four hours a day had significantly lower sperm quality than men who used their phones for less time. That study, however, did not reveal what might be causing this association. The new study by the same research group, published online today in Fertility & Sterility, took sperm samples from 32 men and divided the samples into two parts for a test group and a control group. The test group specimens were placed an inch from a 850 MHz cellphone that was in talk mode. Measurements taken after the one-hour exposure showed that the sperm exposed to the cellphone contained higher levels of harmful free radicals and a decreased amount of protective antioxidants compared with the unexposed sperm. These factors caused a decline in the sperm's function and motility and in the overall health of the sperm. However, there was no significant difference in damage to the DNA of the exposed cells.

For now, the amount of radio-frequency energy released from cellphones is considered safe. But there are looming questions about the long-term and heavy use of cellphones. Links between brain cancer and cellphones have been suggested, for example. And a recent study found a link between women who used a cellphone in pregnancy and later behavior problems in their children. See this recent L.A. Times Health section story on cellphones and the risk of disease.

Further studies are needed to determine if the results seen in the laboratory sperm samples hold true in men. Many men put their phones in a trouser pocket when using a hands-free device. In the lab, the sperm and cellphone were placed side-by-side. But in real life, the phone and the male reproductive organs are separated by several layers of tissue. Still, men who are planning a family may want to play it safe and keep the active phone a safe distance from their reproductive parts.

"Since many people are now using hands-free sets with their cellphones for various health and safety reasons, it's important that we continue studying this topic to gain a better understanding of the true impact these devices are having on every part of the body," said Dr. Edmund Sabanegh, director of the Center for Male Fertility for the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: More people than ever are using hands-free phone devices or headsets and placing their phones on a belt or in a pocket. Credit: Annie Wells /Los Angeles Times

Baby Papas: Maturity on a fast track

September 4, 2008 | 10:23 am

The bulk of studies on teen pregnancy center on the mother, but very young fathers are presented with significant obstacles when it comes to their own education and ability to earn a livable income. Teen fathers have less education and are less likely to finish high school than their peers who have not yet become fathers, according to research from Indiana University Bloomington. Teen fathers enter the labor market earlier and by their mid-20s, earn less than their peers who were not adolescent parents.

Teendad3 Bristol Palin, 17, daughter of Republican vice presidential pick Sarah Palin, and Levi Johnston, 18, Bristol's boyfriend and the father of the baby she's carrying, represent a very small minority of teens. Only 7% of births each year involve teenage fathers, and only 3% of adolescent men are married, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which does research and provides education on sexual and reproductive issues. A story at ABC News online examines the challenges faced by adolescents who become fathers.

In one study of 45 children of teenage fathers, only 45% were living with their dads by the age of 18 to 24 months.

Teen dads need help and support, says Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a group that aims to support and educate fathers of all ages about their role. Warren himself was a father at the age of 19 and married when his girlfriend was five months pregnant.  "We've been married for 26 years. The kid went to Harvard and the whole deal," he says.  "But there are a lot of forces working against you."

"You've got to give [teen fathers] the skills they need to connect heart to heart with that child," he says. "And that gives them the motivation to finish school, find a job, support the family. Support him in the process of maturing, which he's going to have to do at light speed."

--Susan Brink

Photo: Students at Mission Viejo's Silverado High School in a class on premature fatherhood. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

For men, honor trumps sex

August 26, 2008 |  3:55 pm

In a large international, stereotype-busting study, men reported that being honorable, self-reliant and respected is more important to their idea of masculinity than being sexually active or attractive to women.

Man2 The study in this month's Journal of Sexual Medicine involved 27,839 men age 20 to 75 who were interviewed about their attitudes on what it means to be a man. The men were from eight countries: the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Mexico and Brazil.

"Regardless of age or nationality, the men more frequently ranked good health, harmonious family life and good relationships with their wife or partner as more important to their quality of life than material, self-fulfilling or purely sexual concerns," says the press release from Indiana University.

The results are in keeping with a study earlier this year in the Journal of Adolescence in which researchers interviewed 105 10th-grade boys and found that 80% of the teens, whose average age was 16, dated because they "really like the person." In other words, according to a New York Times article, they were motivated by love, not sex.

"Many meanings, positive and negative, are attached to the term, 'masculinity,' " Julia Heiman, director of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University and an author of the study of adult men said in the release. "To ask a large sample of men what comprises their own sense of masculinity is very useful for both the media and for research. These results suggest we should pay attention and ask rather than presume we know."

--Susan Brink

Photo: Bruce Bellas from "Roy Hilligen, Mr.America 1951" from the book "Strong Man, Vintage Photos of a Masculine Icon" by Robert Mainardi. Published by Council Oak Books.


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