Recognizing early warning signs of cancer in men

Here’s a fact from the National Cancer Institute that should get men’s attention:  In the United States, men have a higher risk of dying from cancer than women.  For the year 2019, the cancer mortality rate for men was 189.5 per 100,000 men and 135.7 per 100,000 women.

Men – you’ve heard it a million times but there’s a reason why you should not ignore possible symptoms of cancer.  Knowing what symptoms to look for can help your doctor find cancer early when it’s most treatable.

What is cancer?

Cancer is a disease depending on the type and area of the body it begins in and is a foe you cannot simply wish away.  Cancer cells are different from normal cells in many ways.  Cancerous cells can grow out of control becoming invasive very quickly.  Spreading throughout the body, cancer cells can take over by forming abnormal cells that can clump together forming a mass of tissue called a tumor.  These tumors are called malignant tumors and they invade surrounding tissue spreading into nearby organs where they can cause serious and very likely fatal damage.

The sooner a man recognizes possible symptoms of cancer and gets it checked out, the better the chances of survival.  Early diagnosis is key and the best weapon men have is to know signs of this deadly disease and to not ignore the warning signals cancer is giving.

Warning signs of cancer in men

Starting today, all men should pay attention to their bodies noticing any possible signs of cancer.  There is usually a good chance a sign is not cancer related but until you know, it is better to be safe than sorry.

  • Pain or difficulty urinating

A man experiencing pain or difficulty in urinating is a possible sign of prostate cancer.  Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men behind non-melanoma skin cancer.  As a man ages, he most likely will notice a greater frequency of having to urinate during the night or having a weak stream of urine.  These signs should be reported to his doctor. Blood in urine is another sign men should look for and needs to be checked out.

  • Pelvic pain

A feeling of pain or heaviness in the pelvic area can be a sign of various things but it could also be a sign of prostate or testicular cancer.  If the pain does not go away within a few days of if the pain is getting worse, a man needs to be evaluated by his doctor as soon as possible.

  • Testicular lump

Any lump or swelling noticed on a testicle needs to be looked at by a doctor to rule out testicular cancer.  Signs of testicular cancer can either be a painless or painful lump or swelling in a testicle or the scrotum.  Other signs can also include a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum or a dull ache in the lower abdomen or groin.  Each month a man should perform a testicular self exam.

  • Any sore or growth on the penis

Anytime a man notices or feels a sore or growth on his penis it could be a symptom of penile cancer.  This is a rare cancer but it does occur.  Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is another type of cancer that has been associated with a growth on the penis.  Anytime an abnormality on the penis is found, see a doctor right away.

  • Breast changes

Breast cancer is almost exclusively associated with women but men can and do get this disease.  Though not as prevalent in men, a man should notice any signs of breast cancer which can include a lump, skin dimpling, nipple discharge or a red or scale appearance on or around the breast.

  • Any changes in intestinal or bowel habits

Whenever there are changes affecting the intestinal tract, these could be a sign of cancer.  If a man is experiencing changes associated with constipation, diarrhea, blood in the stools, gas, thinner stools, stomach pain, excess bloating or any overall change in bowel habits, see your doctor.  Colon cancer is often associated with changes in the intestinal tract.

  • Fatigue

A common early symptom of many cancers is often feeling fatigued.  If you are noticing a general decline in energy levels or having frequent and persistent fatigue affecting your normal daily activities, this needs to be evaluated by your doctor.

  • Shortness of breath, persistent cough or wheezing

Whenever you are experiencing a persistent cough, wheezing or a noticeable shortness of breath that is out of the ordinary, this could be a sign of lung cancer.  Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of men and women in the United States. Any of these signs needs to be checked out by your doctor right away.

  • Unintentional weight loss

Losing more than 10 pounds within a month without making any dietary or exercise changes or attempts to try to lose weight could be a sign of cancer.  Even though weight can fluctuate and weight loss can be due to many other factors besides cancer, any significant loss of weight should be reported to your doctor.  Unintentional weight loss could be a symptom of pancreatic, stomach or lung cancers. Notify your doctor of unintentional weight loss right away.

  • Abnormal skin growth or change in a mole

All men should do a monthly body check looking at all areas of his skin from head to toe.  Knowing what looks normal and what doesn’t can help a man to determine if there are any abnormal skin growths or changes in a mole.  Skin cancer can range from nonfatal basal cell carcinoma to deadly malignant melanoma. See a dermatologist if any abnormalities are found as soon as possible.

  • Fever or night sweats

Usually a fever is a sign your body is fighting an infection. Night sweats is where you have an episode of nighttime sweating that can soak your bedding or pajamas.  Experiencing unexplained fevers or night sweats that occur out of the blue could be a sign of one of the blood cancers of leukemia or lymphoma.  Talk to your doctor if either of these symptoms is occurring.

  • Changes in the mouth

Any man who smokes or chews tobacco has a higher risk of mouth cancer. The best thing to do is to quit smoking or using chewing tobacco.  Pay attention for any white or red patches inside your mouth or on your lips.  See a dentist regularly who can notice these changes and see your doctor immediately if these signs occur.

In summary

Men shouldn’t ignore their health. It’s vital to stay informed, pay attention to changes in your body and report unusual symptoms to your doctor right away. Time is of the essence in early detection. Early diagnosis with cancer screening tests and treatment will give men their best chance of beating back most types of cancers.

Remember, having one or more of the symptoms listed doesn’t mean you have cancer. But if they’re persistent, you need to go in for a checkup.

Recognizing early warning signs of cancer in men
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi