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Men,Women, and Prostate Cancer
Page 18

One of the cruelest ironies about prostate cancer is that it usually strikes men at that time in their life when they're most concerned about their virility: between the ages of fifty and sixty-five. This concern — part conscious and part subconscious — is much more multidimensional than a simple ''midlife crisis'' about getting older, being ''outdone'' by younger men, and possibly not having realized certain lifelong dreams. It's a complex reaction to a number of symptoms that may well be associated with a natural drop in male hormone levels. Scientists are now in the process of verifying that most men during this age period go through a kind of hitherto unacknowledged, ignored, or denied ''male menopause,'' a condition that has been dubbed ''viropause'' in the medical literature.

Although viropause i.s certainly milder in its observable effects than menopause, it can be similarly upsetting to the individual. Physically, men going through viropause experience greater and more frequent fatigue; a decline in muscle mass, tone, and strength; and a waning of their ''youth-related'' attractiveness. Emotionally, they find themselves increasingly beset by fear, depression, and confusion. But one of the most disturbing developments of all is inseparably physical and emotional in nature: a decline in sexual desire and potency.

To varying degrees, most men in this age bracket find themselves having unprecedented or much more frequent problems getting or sustaining an erection — a situation that medical investigators over the past decade have often been able to link to declining hormone levels. Comedian George Burns was able to laugh about this problem when it began happening to him: ''Everything that goes up must come down,'' he joked, ''but there comes a time when not everything that's down can come up.'' Most men who develop the problem, however, are not so even tempered in their response. They can't help worrying to some extent about losing their manhood altogether — perhaps sooner rather than later. When they're diagnosed with prostate cancer, such fears can compound exponentially.


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