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Mr. 80 Percent

Masculinity and prostate cancer

This thing men view as an unimaginable horror is actually extremely common. We shouldn’t let cliched notions of masculinity prevent us from knowing about it.

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It’s not a mystery why men don’t talk about prostate cancer. The disease and its treatments can affect sexual function, and if there’s one thing guys don’t like to talk about, especially guys who view Clint Eastwood as the masculine ideal, it’s the loss of sexual function.

That can be isolating for someone diagnosed with prostate cancer. Trust me, I know. When I tried to talk to my male friends about prostate cancer and the potentially emasculating side effects of treatment — did I mention that some men also can’t hold their urine after surgery? — I was met with blank stares or bewilderment. The response was, usually, some version of: “Dude, why are you telling me this?”


I was telling them because this thing they view as an unimaginable horror is actually extremely common — 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime — and they shouldn’t let cliched notions of masculinity prevent them from knowing about it. (The disease can also affect trans people who were designated male at birth.)

Like breast cancer, prostate cancer is extraordinarily common. The difference is, women don’t just ignore breast cancer and hope for the best. If men define themselves by the firmness of their erections — and many do — they’re going to have a tough time coping with a prostate cancer diagnosis and the potential side effects of treatment.

Mark Shanahan can be reached at mark.shanahan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarkAShanahan.