IT HAS been widely reported in the British press that the number of men dying from prostate cancer has overtaken female deaths from breast cancer for the first time. The figures, relating to 2015, show that across Britain there were 11,819 deaths from prostate cancer, compared with 11,442 female deaths from breast cancer. Some have interpreted the figures as evidence of “bias against men”, as the front page of the Daily Mail put it. 

Yet this is only half the story. A simple death count does not really get at the destructive impact of a disease. A better measure is “years of life lost”, which compares the age at which someone dies from a disease to the age at which they would be expected to die. Men typically die of prostate cancer at an older age than women die of breast cancer. Using official data, we estimated the years of life lost, for both cancers, in England. This involved estimating how many people died of each disease at each age group, then subtracting that from the life expectancy in England (around 80). Breast cancer, it appears, is far more destructive.