Top Cancer Symptoms Men Shouldn’t Ignore
One in two men will develop cancer in their lifetimes (versus one in three women), yet we hear a lot more about cancer symptoms in women. In our society, it’s sometimes common for men to “man it up” and ignore the symptoms of cancer they are experiencing as well. While being a hero, at times, is refreshing in today’s world, when it comes to cancer, it can backfire.
With most cancers, the earlier they are diagnosed the better the survival. And it’s not just survival. The early a cancer is diagnosed, the fewer treatments, and resultant side effects, you might expect.
What symptoms should men be watching for? Knowing about the top cancers which cause death in men is a start. The 10 most fatal cancers in men include (in order):
- Lung cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Liver and bile duct cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Kidney cancer
Let’s take a look at the top symptoms of cancer that men should never ignore.
1. Chronic Cough
Since lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men, we will start here.
The most common symptom of lung cancer in men is a chronic cough, often described as a cough that just won’t go away. A cough is more likely to be related to lung cancer if you have a history of smoking, exposure to radon in your home, or have worked in a job where you were exposed to industrial chemicals, asbestos, or diesel fuel. That said, lung cancer occurs in never smokers and people without any obvious risk factors. In fact, lung cancer is increasing in young adult never smokers.
Other symptoms that suggest lung cancer may include shortness of breath (it may be mild and only with activity), wheezing, hoarseness, or coughing up blood. If you have a chronic cough, even if you have no other symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor.
As a final note, if you smoked in the past you may be eligible for CT lung cancer screening. Screening can often detect lung cancers in the earliest, most curable stages of the disease. If you are between the ages of 55 and 80, smoked at least 30 pack-years, and smoke or quit smoking in the last 15 years, talk to your doctor about screening.
2. Pain or Difficulty Urinating
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men, and pain or difficulty with urination is often a sign. This may include having a weak stream of urine or having to urinate often at night.
There has been controversy over screening for prostate cancer in recent years, but the truth is, men still develop, and die from, prostate cancer. Make sure you have a careful discussion with your doctor about the screening and diagnosis and report any other symptoms which concern you.
3. Pelvic Pain
Pain in the pelvic region can be a symptom of many things, including testicular cancer, prostate cancer, or colon cancer. The pain may be due to the tumor itself, or due to the involvement of lymph nodes in the pelvis. Any type of pain lasting more than a few days, or pain that does not go away, needs to be evaluated by a doctor.
4. Persistent Stomach Upset or Bowel Changes
Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men, and while a screening colonoscopy is recommended for everyone at the age of 50, men may develop the disease at a younger age, or may not have undergone screening.
If you experience blood in your stools, constipation, diarrhea, gas, thinner stools, or just a general overall change in bowel habits, see your doctor. Everyone has bowel habits that differ. The most important finding is something that is a change for you personally.
Persistent stomach upset or pain may also be related to the fourth most common cause of cancer deaths in men, or the fifth, liver and bile duct cancer. Pancreatic cancer often begins with a deep belly ache and may come and go. With liver cancer, people may develop jaundice, a yellowish discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes, as well as excessive itching.
5. Blood in the Urine or Testicular Lumps
Bladder cancer is the eighth most common cause of cancer-related deaths in men, and the first symptom is often blood in the urine. There are certainly other causes of bloody urine (or even pink-tinged urine), but all should be checked out. The most common causes are smoking and exposure to occupational chemicals, but as with other cancers, many people develop the disease despite having no obvious risk factors.
Blood in the urine may also be a sign of kidney cancer, another top 10 cancer-killer for men.
A lump, no matter what the size, in the testicle can be a sign of testicular cancer. Men should examine their scrotum and testicles every month. This type of monthly exam is called a testicular self-exam.
6. Unintentional Weight Loss
Unintentional weight loss is a concerning symptom, not only for cancer but other medical conditions. With cancer, it may occur with blood-related cancers such as leukemia or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or it may occur in the more advanced stages of solid tumors as well.
Unplanned weight loss is defined as the loss of 5 percent of body weight over a period of 6 to 12 months. For a 200 pound man, this would mean a loss of 10 or more pounds.
While unexpected weight loss may come as a nice surprise for some people, it’s a good reason to see your doctor.
Fatigue is one of the most commonly experienced cancer symptoms. It occurs often with blood-related cancers such as leukemia and is frequently found with solid tumors as well.
Cancer fatigue is different than ordinary fatigue, or the tiredness you feel after a long day of working or a night of interrupted sleep. It’s a type of fatigue that doesn’t usually improve with a good night’s rest or even a strong cup of coffee.
Fatigue can be insidious and worsen over time without people realizing what’s happening. If you’re feeling more fatigue than you did 6 months ago, or if you find that being tired is keeping you from your normal daily activities, make an appointment to see your doctor.
8. Changes in the Breast
Male breast cancer is certainly not as common as breast cancer in women but it still does occur. Roughly 1 in 100 cases of breast cancer are found in men. Men who develop breast cancer are more likely to have a family history of the disease or carry a BRCA gene mutation.
Symptoms of breast cancer in men may include a lump, nipple discharge, skin dimpling (appearance like an orange peel), or a red and scaly rash on the breast. Men may also first notice a swelling in their armpits due to lymph node involvement.
9. Sore, Lesion, or Growth on the Penis
A sore or lesion on the penis may be a symptom of penile cancer. Penile cancer is often caused by the HPV virus, though by different strains than those which cause genital warts (another cause of lesions on the penis). If you notice any abnormalities in your male parts, make sure to see your doctor.
10. Bottom Line on Cancer Symptoms in Men
We discussed some of the more common symptoms of cancer in men, but just about any symptom might be a warning sign. Pain and other symptoms are our body’s way of telling us that something isn’t right. If you notice a nagging discomfort, or feel something just isn’t right, trust your instinct.
See your doctor. And if you aren’t getting answers and are still concerned, seek out another opinion. Survival rates from cancer are improving, and part of that has been because people are becoming advocates for their own health and asking questions. You live in your body 24/7. Trust what it’s telling you.
- American Cancer Society. Facts and Figures 2018. https://www.cancer.org/research/cancer-facts-statistics/all-cancer-facts-figures/cancer-facts-figures-2018.html
- Kasper, Dennis L.., Anthony S. Fauci, and Stephen L.. Hauser. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. New York: Mc Graw Hill education, 2015. Print.