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Are You a Man’s Man? Why it Raises Your Cancer Risk

By on April 28, 2014
Sure, we all do irresponsible things as teenagers–but could being too “feminine” or “masculine” prompt us to engage in behaviors that cause cancer?

Believe it or not, that’s exactly what researchers from the Harvard School of Public Heath are saying in a new study, now published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Looking at data questioning the habits of teenage girls and boys between 9 and 16, they found those who were described as being the most “feminine” or “masculine” were more likely to engage in activities linked to a higher risk of cancer, such as chewing tobacco, smoking cigars, and tanning more often.

The study was led by Andrea Roberts, Ph.D.

“In general, it would be accurate to say that in almost every case that we see sex differences in cancer risk behavior in teens, we also see difference within each sex by gender expression in the same direction,” says Roberts, who works as a research associate at the Department of Social and Behavioral Health at HSPH. “The study’s overall findings indicate that socially constructed ideas of masculinity and femininity heavily influence teens’ behaviors and put them at increased risk for cancer.”

The Research

Drawing data from the Growing Up Today Study, a currently ongoing study looking at certain dietary and lifestyle factors of teenagers in the United States, Roberts used the research to locate information about their gender expression–such as if they conformed to gender norms or defied typical gender expectations. Eventually, she narrowed down her research to 6,010 girls and 3,425 boys, and from there looked at their answers regarding how feminine or masculine their behaviors were expressed.

After a thorough review, she found something interesting: Those who described themselves as “very masculine” or “very feminine” were more likely to engage in behaviors that raise the risk of cancer. For instance, boys who thought of themselves as being masculine were 80 percent more likely to chew tobacco, a common risk factor for oral cancer. 55 percent of them were also more likely to smoke cigars, a risk factor for lung cancer.

Girls who described themselves as being very feminine, on the other hand, were more focused on their appearance. In Roberts’ findings, they were 32 percent more likely to use tanning beds, upping their risk for skin cancer. 16 percent of them were also more likely to be inactive; sometimes exercise is shown to reduce the risk of cancer.

Overall, this doesn’t paint a good picture for those who want to adhere to gender norms.

“Engaging in risk behaviors in adolescence likely increases the risk of engaging in similar behaviors in adulthood,” says S. Bryn Austin, an associate professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, who also helped author the study. “So it is important to focus on prevention during the teen years, challenging notions such as ‘tanning makes one beautiful’ or ‘cigar smoking and chewing tobacco is rugged or manly.'”

What This Means For You

While this study doesn’t condemn those who are feminine or masculine, it does bring to the light the social pressures associated with these gender norms–and it’s something that should be changed. For males, this means that it’s time to be careful about drinking or smoking too much just to look more manly–there are other ways to assert your manliness without being exposed to the harmful effects of nicotine. Conversely, hitting the tanning bed isn’t such a good idea if you’re female either; instead, explore other options to get your tan on, such as sunless tanning creams.

Readers: Do you find that you have to conform to certain ideals to be seen as masculine or feminine? If so, what are they?

Source:
Those Who Are Masculine or Feminine More Likely to Engage in Behavior That Promote CancerMedicalNewsToday.com

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