A new group has been set up to offer support to men who have received a cancer diagnosis or who are supporting a loved one through a difficult time.

Research from Cancer UK shows that more men than women are diagnosed with cancer each year, but evidence from the area reveals that men are less likely to access programmes which offer emotional and well-being support.

The initiative has been set by the Hunts Community Cancer Network (HCCN) which already offers well-being, exercise and nutritional support to people with a diagnosis, but this new group focuses on men.

HCCN decided to explore the research from Cancer UK which shows that in 2015 (the latest figures) 183,000 men received a cancer diagnosis in the UK compared to 177,000 women.

HCCN looked at the make-up of its existing support groups and realised that men were under represented despite this higher incidence of cancer.

"We work in the evidence-based areas of emotional well-being, exercise and nutrition and offer support through a variety of programmes and activities," said HCCN trustee Amanda Orchard.

"As we have monitored and evaluated the effectiveness of these programmes, we have observed that the take-up by men is much lower than we would have expected.

"Where male participation is highest, in exercise pursuits, we can see that relaxed time together combined with physical activity has built strong and enduring support networks."

"Men have to cope with the same emotional burdens as women as a consequence of a cancer diagnosis, but the benefits of exercise and good nutrition do not seem to vary by gender. We tried to understand therefore why fewer men than women were taking up our offer.

"Some factors were easy to identify, the charity and nursing team offering the service are all women.

"Some cultural influences might also play a part. The traditional emphasis in early life was for boys not to cry, to be brave and strong, and strive to protect others.

"These influences are not always easy to set aside and may operate at a deep level within us. Other traditional factors are generally ascribed to women.

"As the traditional carers they have often been drawn to supporting roles such as nursing and working with young children offering help in ways that generally work well for them."

The HCCN team decided to speak to colleagues at the Leeds Institute of Health Sciences and School of Medicine, University of Leeds, who were able to help them start to understand that the way support is offered is a key determining factor in its acceptance. This research is ongoing, but the team felt sufficiently confident to make a start.

"The challenge for us has been the desire to offer useful support in our key areas to a group that have gender and cancer in common and where our understanding of appropriate methods of delivery need to be revisited," explained Amanda.

"Clearly the start point to meet this need was engaging with the people themselves. Our first step was to advertise for men to come forward to help us. They showed us that group support was just as important for them as for women."

HCCN held two focus groups at the Montagu club, in Huntingdon, and were able to garner and then analyse the information and use it to set up a regular group.

"Their response has demonstrated that the need is there and their guidance is helping us to understand what the phrase "we need a cuddle as well, but in a blokey kind of way" really means in terms of what we say and how we design interventions," added Amanda.

"We want men to join us and show us a way forward. We are keenly aware that social and attitude changes over the last few years will need to be incorporated into our learning and we must be ever alert to that need."

A committee has been formed to guide further development of what is offered. The group has received funding from the Malcolm Whales Foundation for some of its set-up costs.

The HCCN Mens' Group is for men who are, directly or indirectly, affected by cancer or who are supporting a loved one. The group runs on Wednesdays, from 10am to 1pm, at the Montagu Club, in Huntingdon.

INFO: Enrol or obtain more information by contacting Amanda aburridge@nhs.net 01480 416410 or Andrea andrealines1@nhs.net.