Masculine boys and feminine girls more likely to take cancer risks
Teenagers who describe themselves as very masculine or very feminine may be more likely to take part in cancer-causing behaviors than are their peers, concludes a study from the Harvard School of Public Health.
Researchers collected data on more than 6,000 adolescent females and more than 3,000 adolescent males. The participants answered questions about gender expression—defined as “the ways in which we each manifest masculinity or femininity," and their responses showed that boys who described their self-image as “very masculine” were approximately 80 percent more likely to chew tobacco and 55 percent more likely to smoke cigars than those who described themselves as the least masculine. Meanwhile, the females who described their self-image as “very feminine” were 32 percent more likely to use tanning beds and 16 percent more likely to be physically inactive than those who described themselves as the least feminine. Researchers focused on these behaviors because previous evidence has shown them to contribute to cancer risk.
This study is the first to have found a link between cancer risk in teenagers and gendered behaviors. Its findings, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, suggest that the ideas of masculinity and femininity that have been constructed by society have an influence on behavior that could contribute to increased cancer risk. The tobacco and tanning industries, for example, may have convinced many teenagers that smoking cigars and using tanning beds equate to gender expression, the researchers noted. They concluded that their study shows the importance of preventing cancer-causing behaviors during adolescence, since such behaviors are likely to carry into adulthood.