Doctors often recommended regular checkups and preventive screenings for men once they hit 50 years old, which is also when the medical community recommends that men begin getting regular screenings for many types of cancer - yet many men don’t get screened often enough.
Since this is National Men’s Health Month, we’ve decided to highlight the 13 most common symptoms of cancer in men.
While it’s true that many of these signs could be the result of noncancer-related health issues, it’s essential that men listen to and respect their bodies, which can let them know when something is not right.
Having a doctor evaluate symptoms sooner rather than later could pave the way for early detection, successful treatment and a positive outcome - or rule out cancer altogether.
1. Sudden weight loss
If a man has not demonstrably changed his exercise routine, sleep patterns or diet, but finds himself suddenly and dramatically losing weight, it could be a sign that cancer is in the system. A good measure is if there is a loss of more than 10 pounds without an effort to do so, which could be tied to cancer of the lungs, pancreas or stomach.
A doctor can use blood tests or a CT or PET (computed tomography or positron emission tomography) scan to determine whether this is the case.
2. Back pain
Back pain is common as men age, but it can also be an indirect symptom of cancer since cancers (such as prostate) can spread to the bones of the hips, lower back and spine, causing discomfort, before there is a noticeable tumor elsewhere.
3. Chronic cough
A persistent cough that lasts many weeks can be a symptom of many things, but when it is not accompanied by other cold, allergy or flu symptoms such as fever and runny nose, it can be a signal that lung or throat cancer is present - whether a man is a smoker or not. This is especially true if there is bloody mucus and shortness of breath, as well.
4. Unexplained fever
Fever that comes and goes over an extended period of time that is not tied to other symptoms can be an indication of blood cancer or leukemia.
5. Bowel changes
Sudden and persistent changes in the working of the bowels - frequent diarrhea and/or constipation, especially with abdominal pain and gas - can indicate colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum). Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool is another key sign.
6. Urinary changes While some change in urinary function as aging occurs is inevitable, if urinating becomes noticeably delayed, leaky or difficult, or incontinence develops, prostate cancer may be the culprit.
Additionally, blood in the urine could indicate kidney or bladder cancer - smokers past and present see this more often - while blood in the semen could be a sign of prostate cancer. For most men, these urinary changes don’t occur until age 60 or older.
7. Lumps in the testicles
Lumps found in the testicles, or a new consistency or heaviness to the scrotum, can be signs that a man has testicular cancer, which often develops quickly. Doctors recommend monthly self-exams, but they also look for lumps during regular physicals and wellness checks.
Unlike other cancers, testicular cancer is most often found in younger males ages 20 to 39. If symptoms appear, a doctor can perform an ultrasound of the scrotum to determine if there are any major cancer-related problems.
8. Lumps in the breasts
Yes, men can also develop breast cancer - they account for one percent of all cases - and just as with women the best, earliest detection is checking for lumps or swelling in the chest oneself, especially after reaching age 60. Discharge from the nipple, redness or scaling, puckering of the skin, and retraction of the nipple can also be signs, as can swelling in the lymph nodes of the neck and armpits.
The cause of breast cancer in men could be genetics or exposure to radiation.
9. Excessive tiredness
Cancer growth and spread can wear the body down, so ongoing, deep fatigue that affects daily living could be a sign that cancer is in the system. This kind of persistent tiredness is common with men who have colorectal cancer and goes beyond the typical tiredness that results from stress or strenuous activity.
While depression or other emotional disorders can also result in tiredness, these can be side effects of a larger health issue, as well.
10. Changes in moles or lymph nodes
Noticeable changes in the size, color or shape of moles can indicate skin cancer, while lymph nodes that are swollen for more than a few weeks could also be a sign of something more serious than a cold or infection.
11. Spots in the mouth
Red or white spots or patches in the mouth or on the lips and tongue could be a sign of mouth cancer, especially if a man smokes or chews tobacco.
12. Difficulty swallowing, heartburn and vomiting
Persistent difficulty swallowing or swallowing with pain, especially in concert with weight loss and/or vomiting, could indicate throat or stomach cancer, as could ongoing heartburn that isn’t tied to diet, stress or drinking habits.
Pain that won’t subside can be a sign that cancer has spread through the body. Belly pain in particular can be telling, especially if pancreas cancer runs in the family.