Advances in medical treatments and technologies, just in the past 30 years alone, have contributed to the nation’s overall increase in cancer survival rates and decrease in the rate of cancer incidence.
However, despite progress in early detection methods and treatments for cancer, more men than women are likely to ignore cancer symptoms. In addition, men are less likely to see a doctor on their own to get important screenings that detect cancer.
Dr. Barry Uhl
, a radiation oncologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital, answers a few questions about men and cancer, and shares tips on how to help reduce cancer risk.
What are possible symptoms of cancer that men are likely to ignore?
While some cancer signs are very specific, there are certain symptoms that are vague and shouldn’t be ruled out as cancer without seeing a doctor. This includes:
1. Breast mass — While breast cancer in men is not common, it’s still possible. Men should have any new mass or changes in the breast area checked out by their doctor.
2. Change in testicles — The American Cancer Society recommends that men get a testicular exam by their doctor as part of a routine checkup.
3. Weight loss without trying — Shedding a few pounds from exercise or eating less generally does not cause concern. However, if a man unexpectedly loses more than 10 percent of his body weight within a period of three to six months, he should see a doctor.
4. Abdominal pain and depression — Experts have found a link between these symptoms and pancreatic cancer. Other symptoms may include jaundice, changes in stool color and darkening of the urine.
5. Persistent cough — A cough lasting more than three to four weeks, or a change in cough is cause for concern and should be examined by a doctor. In addition to a symptom of cancer, these cough patterns could indicated other chronic conditions.
6. Difficulty swallowing — Men should not ignore any trouble they have with swallowing, which may be a sign of a gastrointestinal cancer such as esophageal cancer. A doctor would be able to evaluate symptoms based on history, and may also order an x-ray or barium swallow test.
7. Changes in skin — In addition to changes in moles, sudden bleeding or excessive scaling on skin should be examined by a doctor.
8. Unexpected bleeding — A visit to the doctor is warranted when blood appears unexpectedly, such as when coughing or spitting up blood. In addition, blood in the stool can be a sign of colon cancer.
9. Mouth changes — Anyone who smokes or chews tobacco should pay attention to any white patches in the mouth or white spots on the tongue. These changes should be reported to the dentist or doctor.
10. Urinary problems — As men age, they are more susceptible to urinary problems such as frequent urge, difficulty urinating, urine leakage and weakened urine flow. Once symptoms occur, medical attention is needed, especially if they get worse.
What are some of the common risk factors associated with cancer?
Generally, cancer risk factors are categorized as biological, hereditary, behavioral and environmental. Biological and hereditary risk factors are those that can’t be controlled, but an individual should be aware of them when discussing with a doctor. Behavioral risk factors are associated with choices a person makes, such as smoking, drinking, not getting enough exercise or eating unhealthy foods. Changes to these behaviors can help reduce cancer risk. Some environmental risk factors that include the environment can be minimized, such as UV radiation, second-hand smoke, pollution and toxins such as pesticides.
What are the most common cancers among men?
According to the American Cancer Society, the cancers that most frequently affect men are prostate, colon, lung and skin cancers.
• Prostate cancer — The chance of getting prostate cancer goes up as a man gets older, and most prostate cancers are found in men over the age of 65. Starting at age 50, men should talk with their doctors about the pros and cons about getting tested from prostate cancer.
• Colon cancer — Most colorectal cancers are found in people age 50 or older. Getting tested for colon polyps and detecting them before they become cancer is an effective way to prevent colon cancer.
• Lung cancer — While smoking causes more than 80 percent of all lung cancers, those who don’t smoke can also develop lung cancer. The best way to reduce risk is not to smoke.
• Skin cancer — Any sun exposure puts people at risk for skin cancer. Those with fair skin are more likely to get skin cancer than people with darker skin. Most skin cancers can be prevented by avoiding midday sun. Ensuring proper skin protection when exposed, being aware of all moles and spots on the skin and reporting any changes to a doctor is important in maintaining skin health.
How can men reduce their risk of cancer?
Since behavioral risk factors are impacted by choices an individual makes, the following lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of cancer:
• Don’t smoke.
• Improve your blood pressure and cholesterol levels by managing your weight and diet. Cut down on portions and reduce intake of foods that are high in sodium or fat.
• Drink alcohol in moderation.
• Exercise at least three to four times a week for 30 minutes.
• Practice sun safety by limiting exposure to UV rays and use proper sun protection.
Ask the Expert
Dr. Barry Uhl
, a radiation oncologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital.