You might like to think of yourself as tough enough to handle any kind of pain, including the pain of cancer treatment. But it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for palliative care when going through painful procedures. So why, then, won’t a significant number of men even consider it…instead choosing to suffer far more than they need to?

To better understand people’s views on palliative care and answer that question, researchers at University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York, asked 383 men and women of all ages—from 22 to 90—with advanced cancer whether they would consider palliative care, which focuses on comfort, if a cure was not possible They found that men were three times less likely than women to say they would ask for it.

This gender gap mirrors that fact that, in general, women are more likely to seek out health care, but there are other reasons why men may shy away from palliative care in particular. Cancer is often portrayed as a war, and men tend to see themselves as warriors and protectors, with a tendency to want to be stoic and tough, said Fahad Saeed, MD, coauthor of the study. Seeking the physical and emotional comfort of palliative care doesn’t fit into that picture, and that could be why fewer men than women embrace it.

Because palliative care is offered to patients dealing with a serious condition, men may also equate it with giving up. But it doesn’t signal that, just as it doesn’t automatically mean you’re dying. Palliative care is for anyone receiving aggressive treatment for a condition, Dr. Saeed said. In fact, it can help you better handle your treatment by addressing whatever side effects you’re experiencing.

WHAT PALLIATIVE CARE REALLY IS

A palliative care team includes doctors, nurses, social workers and other specialists who work with your other physicians to help you manage physical and emotional symptoms from your disease and treatments, such as pain, breathing problems, fatigue, depression and anxiety. Palliative care is not hospice care. Though the goal of hospice is also to provide comfort, hospice is an approach to care for people who have a terminal disease and who have decided to forgo treatment or for whom curative treatments are not an option anymore.

HELPING A LOVED ONE ACCEPT PALLIATIVE CARE

If you are the caregiver to a man who could benefit from palliative care but isn’t open to it, or who you don’t think would be open to it, have a conversation to try to learn what’s behind the resistance, Dr. Saeed suggests.

If it’s because of a misperception about what palliative care is, setting the record straight may help.

It may also help to explain that palliative care also benefits the patient’s loved ones, especially those who are around him the most—his getting this care can ease loved ones’ own emotional pain over his health crisis.

Dr. Saeed’s study also recommended that doctors take more time explaining palliatve care and its merits to their patients. So you might ask one or more involved doctors to do this and/or to be part of your own discussion about it.