Men and Cancer

Asian father and son enjoy talking in bedroom.

When you think of cancer, what’s your first thought? Is it of pink ribbons and women survivors? That makes sense: The most common type of cancer is breast cancer. But, men actually have higher rates of getting and dying from cancer than women. Over 1 million new cancer cases are expected in men in 2023. For Men’s Health Month, take a few minutes to learn about the types of cancers men are most likely to develop, the risks, and how to lower that risk.

Prostate cancer

After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer in men. This cancer occurs in the prostate, which is the male reproductive gland, and tends to grow slowly. Although it’s serious, if caught early, treatment can eradicate all of the cancer. Early-stage prostate cancer rarely produces symptoms, but over time, it can cause:

  • the urgency to urinate,
  • bladder control issues,
  • pain when peeing or in the lower back, and
  • blood in urination or ejaculate.

Age increases risk in developing prostate cancer as does family history, genetics (specifically Lynch syndrome, BRCA1, and BRCA2), and race and ethnicity (Black or African ancestry). The best way to reduce risk is to:

  • get screened regularly,
  • eat healthy and maintain a healthy weight,
  • exercise consistently, and
  • quit smoking.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women. Lung cancer does start in the lungs but may spread to lymph nodes or other organs.  Symptoms of lung cancer in men tend to be:

  • long-term cough that gets worse,
  • chest pain,
  • shortness of breath, and
  • fatigue.

Smoking and/or using tobacco products greatly increases the risk of lung cancer and is responsible for 90 to 95% of U.S. lung cancer cases every year. For non-smoking-related cancers, diets high in fruit could play a role in reducing risk.

Colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, begins in the large intestine, usually as polyps, or benign clumps of cells. Some of these polyps can become cancers over time. Polyps rarely produce symptoms, so regular screenings like colonoscopies are critical. Some symptoms to watch out for are:

  • change in your bowel habits,
  • rectal bleeding or blood in your stool,
  • persistent abdominal discomfort, and
  • unexplained weight loss.

Having excess overall body fat or abdominal fat are the strongest contributors to risk. Eating lots of red or processed meats and drinking alcohol are other factors that increase risk. To lower risk of developing colorectal cancer:

  • eat foods high in fiber,
  • add garlic and milk to mealtimes, and
  • exercise daily.

Liver cancer

One of the largest organs, the liver helps with digesting fat, storing sugar, and filtering harmful materials from the body. Liver cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Symptoms which may appear are:

  • a hard lump or discomfort on the right side,
  • pain near the right shoulder blade or in the back,
  • jaundice, bruising or bleeding,
  • nausea and vomiting, or loss of appetite, and
  • pale, chalky bowel movements and dark urine.

Asian/Pacific Islander men are at higher risk as liver cancer is the second leading cause of death for them. Drinking alcohol can increase risk.  Other ways to reduce risk include:

  • limit or cease alcohol and tobacco use,
  • maintain a healthy weight,
  • avoid exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, and
  • treat diseases that could increase liver cancer risk.

Nobody wants to think about cancer – much less get diagnosed with it. But it’s important to know the facts, so if symptoms occur, treatment can happen early.

Sources: American Cancer Society; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; American Institute for Cancer Research; The Cleveland Clinic; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Verywell Health; Mayo Clinic; National Cancer Institute.