Yesterday in the Boston Globe’s editorial section there was a cartoon intended to show the disparity in spending between men’s and women’s health problems. I don’t remember the exact details, but it showed a woman seeking – and not getting – some sort of help, in front of signs pointing to the prostate and testicular cancer units. I found myself slightly offended, because I’ve heard this canard about unequal spending and have never quite believed it. I try to have an open mind, though, so I tried to find some statistics.

I limited my searches to various forms of cancer this time because it’s easier to see the numbers side by side. Maybe I’ll do something similar for non-cancer diseases when I have more time. I went to the US National Cancer Institute’s SEER system for information on incidence and mortality for four types of cancer – two affecting women and two affecting only men. I initially intended to look up actual dollar amounts for research into each type, but it turns out that those numbers are really hard to find. Instead, I decided to use number of research papers as a (probably inadequate) substitute, and got the appropriate numbers from the US National Library of Medicine’s PubMed system. Here are the results (incidence and mortality are per 100K).

Incidence Mortality # of Papers
Breast Cancer 73.4 16.4 120805
Cervical Cancer 5.1 1.7 33534
Prostate Cancer 71.5 12.6 37675
Testicular Cancer 2.5 0.3 14504

It does seem odd to me that (for example) prostate cancer occurs at 97% of the rate for breast cancer, and has 77% of the mortality, but only generates 31% as much research. I don’t want do overstate any conclusions, but at least in this case I don’t see much evidence that men are hogging all the research spending. I’d really like to know where the evidence – if any – for such a belief comes from. So far, it seems reasonably likely that the real picture for gender-specific health care is not like we’ve been led to believe, and that my annoyance at the cartoon’s portrayal might have been justified.