20 Signs of Cancer Usually Ignored By Men
Men are programmed to tough things out. And contemplating your susceptibility to cancer is never pleasant. But some persistent symptoms should always be confronted head-on. "Men tend to allow symptoms persist, and at times resolve, without seeking help," says Cynthia Chinedu Obiozor, MD, a board-certified oncologist and hematologist in Thousand Oaks, California. "This has repeatedly resulted in worse health outcomes." Eat This, Not That! Health asked the experts to report the most common signs of cancer men usually ignore.
"Non-healing spots on your skin that are scaly and tender and don't pick off could be a sign of a pre-skin cancer, called an actinic keratosis or a developing squamous cell skin cancer," says Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California. "They are most common on balding scalps, ears, face and backs of hands."
The Rx: "If the spot does resolve with moisturizing creams after a month, it should be checked by your dermatologist," says Shainhouse.
It's normal to feel run-down every now and again, but persistent, crushing fatigue can be a sign of cancer. That's because cancer steals the body's nutrients to grow.
The Rx: If you have frequent fatigue that doesn't get better with rest, see your doctor.
Body pain can have a number of causes. But any persistent pain warrants a trip to the doctor for investigation to rule out cancer.
The Rx: Report any persistent pain to your doctor. Your annual physical is a good excuse to evaluate whether anything has changed since your last visit.
"If you or your partner notices a lump or swelling of one or both of your testicles, this should be brought to your doctor's attention right away," says Sumner. "Many times these changes can be painless but could be a sign of testicular cancer."
The Rx: If you haven't checked yourself in a while, now's the time.
"Many times a cough is just a manifestation of a cold or virus. However, especially if you're a smoker, an ongoing cough could be a sign of lung cancer," says Sumner. "Viruses typically only last for 10-14 days at most."
The Rx: "Any cough persisting over two to four weeks should be evaluated by a physician," says Obizor. "A plain X-ray is not always sufficient for evaluation. Men (and women) should advocate for a CT scan if they have a negative X-ray with a persistent cough and for routine screening low-dose CT scans if they are smokers. Please remember, not only smokers can get lung cancer."
The mouth is a pretty tough part of the body; it's exceptionally good at healing itself within days. "Because of this, any lesion in the mouth that has been there a week or more needs to be biopsied to rule out cancer," says Obizor.
The Rx: If you have a lesion that won't go away, "See your dentist for next steps," says Obizor. "A good dentist will do an oral exam before doing any dental work. If your dentist is not performing an oral exam, seek a new dentist."
Indigestion or Trouble Swallowing
You might write off chronic indigestion as a sign of aging, but it can also indicate cancer. "Stomach pain, constipation, nausea, feeling full quickly, or trouble swallowing—these symptoms are not innocuous, and when persistent, should not be ignored," says Obizor. "Gastric cancer, colon cancer, and pancreatic cancer can present with those symptoms."
The Rx: If you have persistent stomach trouble, schedule a doctor's visit.
Changes "Back There"
"The most common signs and symptoms that men often ignore include pain during defecation, change in bowel habits, blood when wiping, sense of fullness and a lump in that specific area," says Jack Jacoub, MD, medical oncologist and medical director of MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.
The Rx: You know to be alert for rectal bleeding, but also be on guard for any other changes in the area, and don't hesitate to get them checked out.
"Both men and women tend to ignore rectal bleeding," says Jesse P. Houghton, MD, a gastroenterologist in Portsmouth, Ohio. "They usually blame it on hemorrhoids—which it turns out to be most of the time—and let it go. However, unless they've had a colonoscopy to make sure it's just hemorrhoids, there is the possibility that colon or rectal cancer is causing it."
The Rx: "Bright red or dark red blood in the stool—sometimes it may look like coffee grounds—are always a subject to bring to your doctor right away," says Felecia Sumner, DO, a family medicine physician in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. "These could be signs of cancer anywhere along your GI tract."
"Unexplained weight loss is a symptom men tend to ignore," says Houghton. "This is the most common symptom of any cancer. Men tend to blame this on diet changes or medication, but it should not be ignored."
The Rx: "If your waistline is getting thinner without you being on a specific diet or hitting the gym regularly, you should talk to your doctor," says Sumner.
Blood in Your Urine
"In most cases, outside of trauma, this is not normal," says Sumner. "Blood in your urine, also known as hematuria, is sometimes a sign of a kidney infection or kidney stone, but can also be an ominous sign of prostate, bladder, or kidney cancer."
The Rx: Follow your doctor's recommendations for routine prostate exams and blood tests. And if you notice blood in your urine, contact them right away.
Lump in the Chest
Male breast cancer only accounts for 1% of all cancer, but it's still important to be aware of the symptoms. "Signs of breast cancer are similar to women but often overlooked and minimized by male patients and their physicians," says Przemyslaw Twardowski, MD, an oncologist at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. "They include a lump in the breast and/or armpit, breast skin discoloration or ulceration, nipple bleeding, discharge or inversion, skin dimpling, or pain if the tumor is extending to the chest."
The Rx: "If any of these are present seek physician care and get a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy if indicated ASAP. Men with excessive breast tissue (gynecomastia) should consider undergoing breast cancer screening yearly." Men whose families have a history of BRCA gene mutations should be especially alert.
"Back pain is usually the number one complaint that goes ignored or without further evaluation. This is not surprising, as back pain is a vague symptom with many causes," says Obiozor. "Worst case scenario, back pain could be a sign of cancer." That could include multiple myeloma (a type of blood cancer), lung, prostate or kidney cancer.
The Rx: Most back pain isn't cancer, but regardless of the source, you deserve relief. See your doctor to determine the cause.
Headaches are very common, and most headaches aren't cancer. "But changes in frequency, type or intensity of headache should prompt neurological evaluation," says Santosh Kesari, MD, PhD, a neuro-oncologist at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
The Rx: If you have head pain that's stronger, lasts longer, or is otherwise different than headaches you've had in the past, contact your doctor.
Likewise, persistent or new episodes of weakness, especially when accompanied by a headache, can be a sign that something's seriously wrong, including brain cancer.
The Rx: Tell your healthcare provider if you notice any signs of tingling or weakness in your extremities.
We all reserve the right to get a bit more cantankerous with age, but a major personality shift— including increasingly risky behavior, apathy, or doing less than normal—can signify a tumor in the brain's frontal lobe, says Kesari.
The Rx: If you notice these changes in yourself or a loved one, they deserve medical evaluation ASAP.
We expect our vision to degrade a bit with age. But vision changes such as blurred or double vision or a reduced field of vision can be the sign of a brain tumor. "Patients may or may not be aware of vision loss with brain tumors," says Kesari. "They may keep bumping into things on side of body related to the vision loss and/or have repeated car accidents on the side of the loss." In fact, the Brain Tumor Charity says that about 28% of brain tumor patients reported vision problems as a symptom.
The Rx: Any changes in vision should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.
"If the urine stream appears low, or if there is an urge to urinate but you can't produce a stream, a prostate malignancy could be the cause," says Obiozor. A prostate gland enlarged by a tumor it can compress the urethra, slowing the urinary stream to a trickle.
The Rx: "Ignoring this can be fatal," says Obiozor. "Prostate and urogenital cancers can be easily diagnosed and managed if diagnosed in early stages."
Any sore that doesn't heal is a cause for concern. "Recurrent or persistent pink or translucent shiny patches or bumps that bleed and seem to heal, then bleed again over months to years, could be the sign of a basal cell skin cancer," says Shainhouse. "This is the most common type of skin cancer and can sometimes grow for years before it is even noticed. It is commonly found on the face and upper body."
The Rx: "It's estimated that one in five Caucasians in the U.S. will develop at least one BCC in their lifetime," she adds. "If you have a sore that won't completely heal up after a few months, get it checked out by your dermatologist."
Changes in a Mole
Moles or freckles that are not round/symmetrical, have jagged borders, have changed color or have grown could be melanoma, a potentially deadly type of skin cancer, says Shainhouse. Men typically develop melanoma on the upper body or back, while women would develop them on the backs of the legs.
The Rx: "Once every month or so, look at your entire body and check your moles for any new lesions and any changes in shape, border, size or color," says Shainhouse. "Have a friend, partner or hairdresser check your scalp, back of your ears and the back of your neck." Report any changes to your doctor ASAP. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these 101 Unhealthiest Habits on the Planet.