On Donahue, Mike Angelucci of the National Coalition of Free Men argued that “male judges and male politicians” discriminate against men. One of his supporting examples struck me, because I’ve heard this meme passed around anti-feminist discussions so often:
“That’s why our government spends four times more on breast cancer research than prostate cancer research, even though they kill the same number every year.”
It’s true that breast cancer research gets more government funding than prostate cancer research – although not “four times more.” Breast cancer research receives about twice as much funding – $900 million annually for breast cancer compared to $438 million annually for prostate cancer, according to the National Prostate Cancer Coalition.
The greater spending on breast cancer is at least partly due to decades of activism and pressure on Congress from women’s groups. Since men’s groups haven’t organized as well or as long, I don’t think “breast cancer vs. prostate cancer” is really a good way to measure government’s alleged preference for women (when the government does something only because of outside pressure, that’s hardly an example of government bias). But even ignoring that, breast cancer research should get more funding, not because of sex, but because of differences in the diseases.
Mr. Angelucci claims breast cancer and prostate cancer “kill the same number every year.” In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, 40,200 people die of breast cancer annually, compared to 28,900 people – a substantial difference. (Put another way, 130 people die of breast cancer for each 100 people who die of prostate cancer). It’s not the mortality rate alone that makes breast cancer scarier, however: it’s also that breast cancer typically strikes at much younger ages.
|How many women
develop breast cancer
|1 in 228||1 in 24||1 in 14|
|How many men
develop prostate cancer
|1 in 19,299||1 in 45||1 in 7|
|Source: American Cancer Society|
We could argue back and forth about if it makes sense to spend more to reduce mortality among the young than among the elderly. On the one hand, one could argue that doing so implicitly suggests that elderly lives are worth less than younger lives, which (I assume) isn’t something anyone wants to claim; on the other hand, if the purpose of medical research is to extend life, then it’s utilitarian to put more resources into fighting diseases that strike younger ages (since we’ll get more additional years of life per dollar expended).
But no matter which side of that debate you come down on, it’s a debate about age, not sex. Given the real differences in mortality and age of onset, it’s a stretch to claim that the differences in federal funding for breast cancer and prostate cancer research is a sign of some government bias against men.
* * *
A postscriptal digression (but an important one): Something that breast and prostate cancer do have in common is that both of them kill disproportionate numbers of African-Americans compared to whites. From an ACS page on the subject:
About 132,700 new cancer cases and 63,100 deaths are expected among African Americans in 2003 according to the ACS guide, Cancer Facts & Figures 2003. Prostate cancer and breast cancer rates in black Americans provide the most dramatic evidence of the cancer gap.
- Black American men have the highest rate of prostate cancer and death in the world – more than twice the rates for white men in the US.
- African-American women are less likely than white women to develop breast cancer, but more likely to die from the disease.
- African Americans with cancer have shorter survival than white Americans at all stages of diagnosis.
From elsewhere on the same page:
Recently however, a landmark report called Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care concluded that racial discrimination within health care settings contributes to poor medical care for many blacks and other minorities. Time pressures on medical professionals and low-end health insurance plans were also cited as reasons why minorities were more likely to get substandard medical care. The end result is that more African Americans and other minorities die from serious diseases today than white Americans, according to study authors.
Lower quality medical care was found even when minority patients’ income, age, medical condition, and insurance coverage were similar to that of white patients.
The page linked to, discussing solutions, notes that “more minority health care providers are needed, especially since they are more likely to serve in minority and medically underserved communities.” If this is right, then eliminating affirmative action in medical school will cause more minorities to die needlessly for lack of doctors working in their communities.
UPDATE: There’s a followup post to this post.