Skip to main content

By Mark Kimmel, UNC Health Foundation

“We are facing what can only be described as a silent health crisis, and we are at a crossroads.”

Dr. Eric Wallen

That passage is found in the opening paragraph of the North Carolina Men’s Health Report Card, a document recently created by Eric Wallen, MD, FACS, director of the UNC Men’s Health Program.

“The purpose of this report is not to instill fear, but rather to highlight the challenges we face and to empower you with the knowledge needed to advocate for the health of your family, friends and neighbors,” adds Wallen.

Cancer is the leading cause of death for men in North Carolina. In 2021, more than 10,000 men in the state died of cancer, including 10% from prostate cancer alone.

June is National Men’s Health Month. Now in its 30th year, this national observance raises awareness of preventable health problems and encourages early detection and treatment of disease.

A Call to Action

There is a growing concern that men are not seeking out health care as often as they should. In North Carolina, only 63% of men over the age of 50 have ever had a prostate exam. The need for knowledge, education, and awareness about men’s health issues is more critical than ever.

The Men’s Health Report Card is an initiative that aims to bring men’s health issues to the forefront. An outgrowth of the Women’s Health Report Card that has been instrumental in raising awareness about women’s health issues for several years, the men’s report card presents data in an understandable way, sparking conversations about the future of men’s health programs and how we can improve them.

As the director of the UNC Men’s Health Program and a urologist specializing in cancer treatment, Wallen has been inspired by his patients to consider the broader context of a patient’s health, not just their cancer. This holistic approach has led to the development of treating the whole patient and improving men’s health overall.

“One of the greatest advances in prostate cancer care is active surveillance,” said Wallen. “This approach involves learning which cancers are the most dangerous and working hard to identify and treat these cases early.”

This whole-patient approach extends beyond cancer care. It includes addressing common health issues that men face, such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol and stroke. The goal is to engage men in preventative health behaviors before they even come to see the doctor. For instance, most health issues that men in their 60s face are preventable.

However, societal norms and attitudes often discourage men from seeking preventative care. Phrases like “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” or “I’m too busy taking care of my family” reflect a lack of engagement in preventative health behaviors. Changing this mindset is a complex challenge, but it’s one that UNC Health is committed to addressing.

The Importance of Regular Checkups

One of the aims of the men’s health program is to create relationships with men in their communities and emphasize the importance of regular checkups. It’s not just about your prostate – it’s about your overall health. Regular checkups can help with smoking cessation, weight control, and blood pressure management.

Wallen’s work encourages men to engage in earlier prostate cancer screening with an aim to bring screenings into high-risk communities.

Black men in North Carolina are especially hard hit by these health issues. They face a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and prostate cancer. One in six Black men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and will die at a rate 2.4 times greater than men of all other racial and ethnic groups – the largest disparity for any type of major cancer in men or women.

“We’re working to encourage patients to advocate for themselves when they go to their primary care doctor, even if their doctor isn’t pushing for it,” explains Wallen. “We bring in survivors at our events who tell their stories about how they advocated for their own prostate cancer screening.”

Just like breast cancer, prostate cancer is asymptomatic at the early stage. The PSA test identifies cases with an 8-to-10-year lead time before symptoms develop or before an abnormal exam.

“We aspire for the PSA blood test to be as well-known as the word mammogram,” said Wallen. “If we’re reaching the highest risk groups at the age of 40, we’ve succeeded.”

Community Engagement

Several events were held in June as Wallen and other men’s healthcare workers addressed community advocates and church leaders.

“Changing behavior in men who don’t want to get checked out is a complex puzzle,” said Wallen. “However, some of the things I stress are related to individual health as an adult man. It’s vital for the health of your family and your community. You’re a contributor, you’re a wage earner, your job gets your family insurance, and your kids love you and want you around as long as possible.”

Family dynamics play an important role. Wallen often appeals directly to spouses and partners because the most common reason a man goes to the doctor is because his partner encourages him.

“None of this becomes possible without them.”

Wallen, a busy clinician who wears several hats in his role at UNC Health would not have the time or the resources for these community engagement initiatives without the help of the dedicated and thoughtful donors who have given graciously to make these efforts like the report card a reality.

“Many of them (donors) are very intelligent and thoughtful and think about this maybe as much as I do,” Wallen said. “None of this becomes possible without them.”

Wallen has big plans to expand the men’s health program, including the potential for a dedicated men’s health clinic.

“We’re not there yet, but ideally in the next five years we develop a spoke and hub model where we have a central office with coordinators who help create community events, who work on the educational mission,” said Wallen.

Lowry Caudill, Past-Chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and the namesake of Caudill Labs at UNC, is a prostate cancer survivor who was treated by Dr. Wallen in 2010.

“Eric gave me an incredible quality of life and quite simply saved my life,” said Caudill.

The two have had numerous conversations about a holistic approach to men’s health over the years and they both agree that there’s not enough training and educating of our doctors to serve the need of an aging population.

Because of this concern, Lowry and his wife, Susie, have committed significant philanthropic support to Dr. Wallen and the UNC Department of Urology.

“The impact we can make on the citizens of North Carolina is a wonderful gift,” added Caudill.

Men’s health is a critical issue that requires more attention, awareness and action. Fundraising efforts play a crucial role in enhancing these initiatives and ensuring their success, helping healthcare leaders like Dr. Wallen change the narrative around men’s health to create a healthier future for all men.

Interested in learning more about philanthropy opportunities through the UNC Health Foundation and ways to advance men’s health? Please contact Matt Cain, Senior Executive Director of Development at (919) 445-6696 or

Comments are closed.