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Objectives. Analysis of health statistics reveals that, although men have a shorter life expectancy and a higher mortality rate than women, they have less contact with their GP. This study investigates men's experiences of prostate disease, with a particular focus on how they made the decision to seek medical help.

Method. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with 20 men aged 51–75 with prostate disease who had recently contacted their GP. These were audiotaped, transcribed and subjected to interpretative phenomenological analysis.

Results. Analysis revealed that their referral behaviours were profoundly influenced by a need to live up to traditional images of masculinity. Far from being uncaring, men were extremely anxious about their health and fears about the effects of illness and treatment emerged as major influences on their decision to seek help. Their delay in approaching their GP was due to their beliefs about symptoms as markers of serious disease, their ability to hide symptoms from others and their attitude towards male GPs who were often seen as having negative attitudes towards male patients.

Conclusion. This study identifies some reasons why men with prostate disease may fail to seek medical care and has implications for increasing referral rates for men.