William Leith

His and her healthcare

Marek Glezerman discovers that cancer and heart attacks, among many other conditions, affect the sexes in different ways, and so require different medical care

When I started this book, I have to admit, I did not think it would be as absolutely fascinating as it turned out to be. It’s by a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, and it’s about the medical differences between men and women. There are lots of medical differences between men and women — something doctors in general should bear in mind during treatment. But they don’t, says Dr Glezerman — or, at least, not enough.

This is all in the realm of the fairly interesting. Men and women are hormonally different from each other, they store fat differently, their brains are not quite the same, they respond to heat and cold in slightly different ways, they are affected by anxiety and depression and cancer and heart disease in different ways, their immune systems are not exactly the same, their muscle mass is different. Women are born with a finite number of eggs. Men produce billions of sperm every day. They shoot them out. And so on.

I was expecting a whole lot of medical information in this vein — information about men and women, and about diseases, and about how the diseases harm men and women in different ways. And, to a large extent, this is what I found.

Take colon cancer. The passage of food through the (pre-menopausal) female colon is slower than the equivalent journey through its male counterpart. ‘Thus small amounts of blood which would be indicative of pathology in the colon, including cancer, also remain longer in the large intestines before being expelled.’ In other words, you might be looking for blood in the female stool. And you might not find it. But just because it’s not there now doesn’t mean it wasn’t there at some point in the recent past.

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