Understanding Men's health

What are the biggest threats to Australian men’s lives and how can you avoid them? The table below shows the 10 leading causes of death in Australian men in 2005. These 10 causes made up 57% of all male deaths.

Cause of Death

Number of deaths

Per cent of all male deaths

Heart attack and related disorders (coronary heart disease)



Lung cancer



Stroke (cerebrovascular disease)



Other heart diseases



Prostate cancer



Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease



Bowel Cancer (Colorectal Cancer)



Unknown primary site cancers






Suicide (Depression)



Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2008. Australia’s health 2008. Cat. no. AUS 99. Canberra: AIHW.

The leading cause of death was coronary heart disease (heart attack and related disorders) and accounted for almost 1 in 5 male deaths. Lung cancer and cerebrovascular disease (stroke) were the two next most common causes.

When deaths are broken into age groups you can see how risk factors change over the course of male teenagers’ and men’s lives.

Among the 15-24 years of age group, 75% of male deaths result from injury and poisoning. In the 25-44 years of age group, injury and poisoning are also the leading cause of death (52%). By the time men get to 45-64 years of age, cancer becomes the leading cause, resulting in 43% of deaths.

The good news for you is that many of these diseases and accidental causes of death are preventable. It is possible to reduce your risk of dying or living with illness by taking some simple steps.

Coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women. It is also a major cause of disability. The two major types are heart attack and angina.

The major risk factors for coronary heart disease are:

By choosing a healthy lifestyle, managing your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and keeping your blood sugar under control if you have diabetes, you can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease. Have your blood pressure checked every 2 years, or more often if you have additional risk factors. Cholesterol tests should be done every 5 years from 45 years of age, unless you have additional risk factors. Talk to your GP about your level of risk, and what you can do about it.

www.heartfoundation.org.au/Heart_Information/Heart_Conditions/ Coronary_Heart_Disease/Pages/default.aspx

Lung cancer

Lung cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in one or both lungs. About 90% of lung cancer is caused by smoking (including passive smoking), which means that the majority of lung cancer can be avoided. About 1 in 10 smokers develop lung cancer, compared to about 1 in 200 non smokers. The incidence of lung cancer in men is about 2.5 times that of women.

The best way for you to prevent lung cancer is not to smoke. If you quit smoking now, in 10 years your risk of lung cancer will be half what it would be if you continued to smoke. In addition, you will be reducing your changes of developing the other major causes of death listed here.

Visit www.quitnow.info.au to help you quit.

Cerebrovascular disease (stroke)

Cerebrovascular disease is a disorder of the blood vessels leading to the brain. In most cases, death from cerebrovascular disease is due to stroke, which is caused by the blockage or bleeding of a blood vessel to the brain. Most strokes occur in people over 60.

However, men tend to have strokes at a younger age than women. Stroke is also a major cause of disability in Australia, with many stroke survivors becoming dependent on others to help them get on with their daily lives..

While some factors which put you at risk of stroke, such as family history and age, can’t be changed most are related to lifestyle and proper management of other conditions, including:

  • smoking
  • poor diet
  • physical inactivity
  • high alcohol consumption
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • high cholesterol levels.

Talk to your GP about how you can reduce your risk.


Other heart diseases

In addition to coronary heart disease, there are a number of other heart diseases that cause death and significant illness and disability. These include heart failure, which happens when the heart becomes too weak to pump blood around the body effectively.

You can reduce your risk of developing heart disease by looking after your heart. This can include enjoying a healthy lifestyle and keeping your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes under control.

The Heart Foundation has advice on healthy living for your heart and how to build good habits.


Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer affects a large number of men in Australia but the majority of men with prostate cancer will not die as a result. Slow growing tumours are common and may not show any symptoms or affect a man’s life. It is rare in men under 50 years of age. If you have a father or brother who was diagnosed with prostate cancer under the age of 60 you may have a higher risk of developing it when you are younger.

If you have prostate symptoms, talk to your GP about whether you should be tested. Routine t esting for prostate cancer in low risk men with no prostate symptoms is not currently recommended. No benefit has been proven, and there is some potential for harm that can arise from screening and subsequent therapy.

If you are concerned about prostate cancer, talk to your GP. Your GP will talk to you about the risks, benefits and uncertainties around prostate cancer testing and treatment.

This way you can make a decision about testing based on your individual risk and circumstances.

Find out more about the lastest Prostate Cancer Telephone Support Groups including:

  • men with advanced prostate cancer
  • younger men
  • family and carers of men with prostate cancer’

Prostate cancer telephone groups (PDF 90KB)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a long term lung disease that blocks the air passages of the lungs. It includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It causes breathlessness and is almost always caused by smoking. The damage to the lungs cannot be repaired but by quitting smoking patients can slow the rate of damage to their lungs. As well as being a leading cause of death, COPD also causes significant illness and disability.

Visit www.quitnow.info.au to help you quit.

Bowel Cancer (Colorectal Cancer)

Bowel cancer, also known as Colorectal cancer, affects 1 in 10 men. There were 7181 men diagnosed in 2005. It is caused by abnormal growths on the linings of the colon and rectum (the part of your intestine which stores waste until it is excreted through the anus).

Risk factors include:

  • age
  • family history
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • obesity
  • smoking.

Not smoking, eating a good diet especially one that includes vegetables and foods high in fibre, exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce the risk.

Bowel cancer can be treated effectively if found early, but this only occurs in about 40% of cases. It is recommended that everyone has a screening test called a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) every two years from the age of 50. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, talk to your GP about whether you need to have a colonoscopy, where a doctor looks in your bowel through a tube. This might need to start before you are 50.

You should also watch for any signs of bowel cancer, which include blood or mucus in your faeces, changes in your bowel habits, or discomfort in your abdomen.

The Australian government is currently running a National Bowel Cancer Screening Program which offers testing to people turning 50, 55 or 65 years of age between January 2008 and December 2010. More information is available at www.cancerscreening.gov.au

Unknown primary site cancers

While lung, prostate and colorectal cancers are the most common in men, other cancers also cause a significant number of deaths and illness. Sometimes, cancers are diagnosed after the disease has spread through the body so that it is not possible to work out where the cancer started. These cancers are called unknown primary site cancers.

Most cancers occur at higher rates in males than females. In 2005, there were 56,158 new cases of cancer diagnosed in Australian males. By the age of 75, 1 in 3 Australian men will have been diagnosed with cancer at some stage of their life. However, more than 60% of cancer patients will survive more than 5 years after diagnosis.

Many cancers can be prevented or successfully cured if diagnosed early. Make yourself aware of your body either by examining it yourself or perhaps with the help of a partner and see your GP if you notice anything unusual. The Cancer Council has a factsheet on what kinds of things you should look out for, along with other things you can do to reduce your risk of cancer.


The risk of getting certain types of cancer (and many other conditions) can be reduced by maintaining a healthy weight, good diet, reduced alcohol intake, and exercising. Avoiding sun exposure and checking any unusual spots on your skin will help prevent skin cancer. The Cancer Council has factsheets on how to maintain a cancer smart lifestyle.



Diabetes is a long term illness where blood glucose (sugar) levels are increased due to a lack of insulin in the blood. The rates of diabetes in Australia are increasing, and numbers have doubled in the past 20 years. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form, making up 85-90% of diabetes cases in Australia, and is largely preventable. Many people are unaware they have it. Type 1 diabetes more commonly occurs in younger people and is not preventable.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include excess weight, lack of exercise, poor diet and family history.

Diabetes can cause blindness, the need to have part of your body amputated, kidney failure and impotence, as well as death from complications such as heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure and cholesterol can contribute to these complications from diabetes.

Everyone should be tested for diabetes with a blood sugar test every 3 years from 55 years of age. If you have other risks factors, including family history, you should be tested from the age of 45. Certain ethnic groups are at a higher risk of diabetes and may need to start 12 monthly testing at a younger age.


Suicide (Depression)

Depression is the most common cause of suicide. However, depression in men is often not diagnosed. Depression has varied symptoms and 1 in 8 men experience it in their lifetime (1 in 5 women).

Men are less likely to seek help or talk about how they feel. Symptoms in men may not appear as sadness, but rather things like tiredness, irritability, sleep disturbance, or loss of interest in work or other activities. The use of alcohol can also mask symptoms. Depression is not something that will just go away, but if you do experience the condition be aware that it can be successfully treated, like any other illness.

Talk to your doctor if you think you might be depressed, or find yourself having suicidal thoughts. If you think a friend or family member is depressed, discuss your concerns with them and encourage them to seek help.

Risk factors for depression include previous depression, a family history of the illness, drinking too much alcohol, drug use, the recent loss of family members or others close to you, stress, unemployment and chronic illness.

Beyondblue: the national depression initiative, has a wealth of resources on the subject and provides information, including a factsheet on depression in men, which outline some of the symptoms and treatments.


See beyondblue Fact sheet 12 – Depression in men; beyondblue information card – depression in men

Nearly one in 10 people will experience some type of anxiety disorder in any one year – around one in 12 women and one in eight men. One in four people will experience an anxiety disorder at some stage of their lives.

See beyondblue Fact sheet 21 – Anxiety disorders; beyondblue Fact sheet 31 – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; beyondblue Fact sheet 35 – Generalised Anxiety Disorder; beyondblue Fact sheet 36 – Panic Disorder; beyondblue Fact sheet 37 – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; beyondblue Fact sheet 38 – Specific Phobias; beyondblue Fact sheet 39 – Social Phobia; Youthbeyondblue Fact sheet 2 – Dealing with anxiety disorders.



More information

Managing stress

When we talk about being stressed, it usually means we’re tense about something that’s happening in our lives. Some stress can be a good thing. It can help us get motivated to get things done. But too much stress can lead to problems and may be a risk factor for depression if it persists.

Stress busters – helpful hints

  • Avoid isolation – spend time with friends and family
  • Find positive ways to “let off steam”. Don’t bottle up feelings.
  • Try to eat well and get enough rest.
  • Reduce caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and marijuana.
  • Exercise every day. It improves well-being.
  • Identify what is important and prioritise. Learn to say “no”.

beyondblue Information card – Depression in men

beyondblue Fact sheet 6 – Reducing stress

Youthbeyondblue Fact sheet 7 – Dealing with stress

Drinking, depression and anxiety

Drinking may seem like a good way to take your mind off things, particularly if you’re feeling depressed or anxious, but if can affect your mental as well as your physical health. Alcohol can exaggerate the mood you were in before you started to drink – so if you are depressed or anxious, alcohol can make these feelings worse. And regular drinking can increase your chances of developing depression.

If you’re worried that the amount of alcohol you’re drinking is making your depression or anxiety worse, or that you’re just drinking too much in general, here are some tips to cut back:

  • Try not to drink by yourself, or when you’re feeling down or anxious
  • Don’t keep alcohol at home
  • Try alcohol-free days, weekends or weeks
  • Avoid drinking during the working week
  • Avoid rounds (or shouts)
  • Switch to low alcohol beers
  • Alternate alcohol drinks with non-alcoholic ones
  • Sip slowly
  • Keep a count of your drinks and stop at a certain number

beyondblue Fact sheet 9 – Reducing alcohol and other drugs

Youthbeyondblue Fact sheet 8 – Drinking, depression and anxiety

Drug use and your mental health

Taking drugs may seem like fun and a good way to take your mind off things or spend time with friends. But, sooner or later, drug use has negative effects on your mind as well as your body. It can contribute to, or trigger, mental health problems. And if you have an existing mental health problem and use drugs, the combined effect can cause even more problems.Reducing your use of drugs will help to improve your mental health. Here are some things you could try:

  • Make it difficult to access drugs – don’t keep a supply of drugs and avoid spending time with people who use them
  • Distract yourself when you feel like taking the drug – hang out with friends who are not taking the drug, go for a run or walk, listen to music.
  • Get support – your family and friends may give you more support if they know that you are doing something about your drug use.
  • Talk to someone – talking to a friend, family member or counsellor can help you to stay motivated to keep trying.

Look after yourself – eating well and drinking lots of water can help you to stay healthy.

beyondblue Fact sheet 9 – Reducing alcohol and other drugs

Youthbeyondblue Fact sheet 9 – Drug use and your mental health

Youthbeyondblue Fact sheet 10 – Cannabis and your mental health

Keeping active

Keeping active can help you stay physically fit and mentally healthy, lifting your mood, increasing energy, improving sleep and increasing well-being.

Exercise is a good way to prevent or treat mild to moderate depression and anxiety. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Start simple – increase your activity levels gradually
  • Do what is enjoyable – choose activities that are enjoyable, interesting, relaxing or satisfying
  • Include other people – encourage your friends or family members to get active with you
  • Make a plan – include activity in your daily schedule

beyondblue Fact sheet 8 – Keeping active

Eating well

Good food is important in maintaining mental health as well as physical health. Eating well means having a wide variety of healthy foods including plenty of vegetables, fruit and cereals (like bread, rice and pasta), some lean meat, chicken or fish, dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese) and lots of water. It’s a good idea to avoid fatty foods and foods with lots of sugar in them.

Eating well may mean making changes to your eating habits and lifestyle. This can take time, so try making small changes rather than changing everything at once – for example you could start by swapping a chocolate for a piece of fruit.

beyondblue Fact sheet 30 – Healthy eating for people with depression, anxiety and related disorders

Getting enough sleep

A good night’s sleep is important for maintaining good health. Sleeping problems are common and can leave you feeling irritable and without energy. If this goes on for too long, you may end up feeling anxious or depressed. But there are a number of things you can do to improve your sleep so your mind and body can recharge from the day’s activities.

  • Going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning can help your body clock get into rhythm and make sleeping feel more natural.
  • If you have a lot of things on your mind, try to process the day’s thoughts and feelings and let go of them before you go to bed. If it helps, write things down during the day or talk about them with someone you trust.
  • If you’ve been feeling down for a couple of weeks and also been unable to sleep, it may be a good idea to talk to a friend, family member or doctor about how you are feeling.

beyondblue Fact sheet 7 – Sleeping well.

Youthbeyondblue Fact sheet 13 – Getting the sleep you need


While not a top 10 cause of death overall in men, injury and poisoning are the leading causes of death in the 15-44 year old age groups. Transport accidents make up a large proportion of these injuries. Injuries are also the cause of hospitalisation and long term disability. They can affect employment, education and recreation and have a seriously adverse affect on your future. By nature, accidents are largely preventable.

There are many ways that you can look out for both your own safety and that of others and try to avoid them. For example:

  • Always use seat belts
  • Stick to the speed limits
  • Don’t drink and drive
  • Don’t drive when sleepy or under the influence of drugs
  • Use common sense precautions when using ladders, chemicals and other hazards
  • Take care at work where there are particular occupational hazards, and look out for your co-workers. Always use safety equipment
  • Take care when playing sport. Always use protective gear such as helmets, and don’t take unnecessary risks
  • Watch out for your own safety and that of others around you
  • Drink alcohol in moderation – it is a major factor in violent assaults.

What does all this mean for me?

A healthy lifestyle made up of eating healthy foods, regular exercise, not smoking, drinking in moderation and keeping a healthy weight will all help in reducing your risk of disease and death. Have regular check ups with your GP to make sure that you are on track.

Remember, you are not just preventing death, but also the chance of having to live with an ongoing illness that might stop you from doing the things you like to do. At the same time you are also boosting your chances of staying in good health.

While there are some risk factors, such as family history and age, that you can’t control there are many that you can – so why not take control of your health and act now!