Malignant Melanoma Kills 1,300 Men Each Year… So What Are We Going to Do About It?

Published on: Wed 28 August 2013 by Admin

In the BBC News last week it was reported that Cancer Research UK have released figures suggesting that malignant melanoma kills 30% more men than women each year. Although there is evidence that genetics plays a part in this, no doubt men’s infamous reluctance to seek medical advice early is playing a contributory part to this staggering statistic.

We all know about the serious and dreaded condition, Man Flu. At its mere mention a number of men in the room will look demasculinised as they bow their head in memory of the last time they were struck. And accompanying women roll their eyes.  Wikipedia define this condition as a “pejoratively used phrase that refers to the idea that men, when they have a cold, exaggerate and claim they have the flu.” A fabulous summary. Boys, if it was actually Influenza you would be in bed. It’s nothing more than an ache and a sniffle!

One would expect that at least those men who suffer from Common Cold Hyper-Sensitivity (aka Man Flu) would go running to the doctor or pharmacist at the first sign of a symptom but surprisingly this is not the case. The inherent reluctance to visit a medical professional until the ailment, illness or disease is bordering life threatening, must be X-linked recessive; the NHS report that on average men visit the doctors 50% less often than women. Wow! Surely more can be done to close this chasm.

Whilst watching the BBC news bulletin from the corner of my eye and executing my morning routine in preparation for work I was reminded of a campaign that NHS North Yorkshire & York ran to encourage more middle-aged men to use pharmacy services. It provides a great case study that exemplifies what could be done to encourage men to take quicker action at the first sign of ill health.

Case Study: NHS North Yorkshire & York


Initial research sought to identify the barriers that prevent men from using pharmacy services. In summary, it confirmed that key factors included:

  •  The perception that it’s not socially acceptable for men to be overly attentive to their health
  • A fear of uncovering something more serious
  • A perception that pharmacists aren’t qualified enough to advise
  • A general lack of understanding of the services available

Marketing Pharmacy Services

Following the research a social marketing campaign was designed to raise awareness of the services community pharmacies offered. It specifically targeted men in the age ranges 40 – 55, within the social demographic ranges of C2, D and E, in Scarborough.

The ‘No More Niggles’ campaign (great name!) was the first of its type to take place anywhere in the UK and was subsequently recognised at the Chartered Institute for Public Relations Awards in the category of ‘Best Integrated Campaign’.

The President of Men’s Health Forum said:

‘I have a niggling feeling that this hugely valuable campaign is just the start of men’s better use of a marvellous resource, the pharmacy… It will however take the combined efforts of politicians, the DH, GPs, the media and of course pharmacists themselves to make sure this amazing opportunity is not missed.’

Training Pharmacy Staff

The communications element was the first step. However, in order for the campaign to be truly successful it was crucial that pharmacists and pharmacy staff had the skills and confidence to:

  1. Seize the opportunity to approach the men who came into the pharmacy
  2. Understand how to effectively communicate with a male customer and be sympathetic with his needs, concerns or fears
  3. Build trust and gain rapport, and begin to dissolve the ‘fear factor’.

In partnership with NHS North Yorkshire and York, RightTrack Consultancy designed a highly specific half-day programme that was delivered to pharmacy staff in the target area.  The delegate comments and results were fantastic; overall, attendees’ knowledge and skill was increased by 79%.

I remember thinking at the time what a great initiative this was. I am lucky enough to have a granddad, a father, a brother, uncles and cousins; I hope that I am right to be confident in the fact they would all seek immediate advice if they ever became concerned about their health. But I am equally convinced that many men wouldn’t.

Perhaps other regions will take note of NHS North Yorkshire & York’s pilot campaign and devise their own strategies to increase the percentage of men who visit the doctor, or pharmacist; reduce the number of deaths of males by skin cancer; and maybe even decrease the number of cases of Man Flu at the same time too!