Men traditionally (and statistically) tend to keep medical problems to themselves and try to “tough it out” rather than go see a doctor. While this is fine if you’re dealing with a cold or allergies, this habit can become dangerous with more serious conditions. For example, many early symptoms of cancer are easy to dismiss, no matter how unusual they may be. This means that early signs of cancer in men can go unreported. In the worst case, this means the cancer would not get detected until the window for early treatment (and the best outcome) has passed. It’s important for men to be aware of the potential early signs of cancer and to take the appropriate action.
Changes in Bowel Habits
As the name implies, colorectal cancers will form within the bowel and/or colon, and the tumor’s presence will disrupt normal defecation patterns. The sudden appearance of persistent diarrhea, constipation, gassiness, and/or abdominal pain should be brought to your doctor’s attention. Although deviations from your normal dietary patterns can cause temporary changes in bowel habits, they should not last more than a few days—or a week at most. Also be vigilant for any changes in the “caliber” of your bowel movements such as density, size, or “floatiness.”
Urinary difficulties are not uncommon as men age, but certain specific trends can be suggestive of either an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer itself. Common red flags include unusually frequent urination (especially at night), difficulty urinating even if you feel a strong urge, and a weak stream while urinating or dribbling.
Blood Where It Isn’t Supposed to Be
Blood in the stool, urine, or semen should be brought to your doctor’s attention—especially the latter two. Colon, kidney, prostate, or bladder cancer can be implicated in this symptom so it is important to eliminate it as a potential cause.
Testicular cancer can present as a lump or swollen area on either testicle, sometimes both. It is important to get checked out if you feel that your testicles are heavier than normal or if you notice a new lump. Testicular cancer can grow surprisingly fast compared to other types, so these sorts of changes can seemingly appear overnight. Additionally, you should be getting monthly check-ups once you reach age of 50 or so.
Swollen Lymph Nodes
The lymph nodes are found in your neck, armpits, next to the groin, and elsewhere in the body and are heavily involved in your immune system. It is common for lymph nodes to become swollen when fighting off infection, but it can also be a sign of cancer. If your lymph nodes are swollen for over two weeks, bring it to your doctor’s attention.
Unintended Weight Loss
A person’s weight will naturally fluctuate up or down a few pounds over any given time frame, and it’s possible for minor changes in diet or activity to result in burning a bit of extra fat. However, there is a difference between this type of unexpected weight loss, and realizing you’re now 10 pounds lighter without doing anything. Unintended weight loss is a potential sign of pancreatic, stomach, or lung cancers, as well as other potentially serious (but non-cancer) diseases, so it should always be checked out.
Men can get breast cancer as well. They account for only 1% of cases, but it can and does happen. Due to this rarity, men are much more likely to ignore lumps in their breast and delay getting them evaluated, either because of embarrassment or because it simply doesn’t occur to them that they could get breast cancer. Try not to make the same mistake—if you have a lump, get it assessed.
Persistent Lower Back or Hip Pain
Prostate cancer has an annoying and nasty habit of spreading to the surrounding bones, which can begin causing more overt symptoms to appear. While the lower back and hip area are prone to strain and pain, this is different from the type of deep tenderness and discomfort that cancer can cause. Back pain in this area—especially if you haven’t done anything overly physical that could have caused it—warrants inspection by a doctor.
Persistent tiredness is sometimes seen as the cost of living in a fast-paced world, and it may be that way for some people, especially since the body naturally slows down with age. A deep-seated, intractable fatigue that rest and sleep doesn’t help is still a cause for concern and needs to be talked over with your doctor.
Persistent Cough or Shortness of Breath
Coughing is a common and basic reaction that can be caused by anything affecting your throat, from infection to irritation to not chewing enough before swallowing. Despite this, a persistent cough that doesn’t seem connected to any obvious signs (congestion, allergies, infection, etc.) may be a sign of lung cancer. This also applies to shortness of breath, especially if there is a wheezing sound involved. Smokers need to be particularly vigilant for these signs since they are both at higher risk of lung cancer, and because smoking itself can mask the signs.
Depression and Belly Pains
One of the more specific early signs of cancer in men is the combination of depression and belly pains, which indicates pancreatic cancer. This type of presentation is actually hereditary, so you may not need to worry about it unless the symptom (or pancreatic cancer in general) has a history in your family.
Almost all of the symptoms described above can serve as early signs of cancer in men, but also as symptoms of other potentially less serious or minor problems. This can make them easy to write off, or make people hesitate seeing the doctor for fear of being embarrassed if their concern turns out to be unwarranted. It is also possible to think that if you get regular screenings, you will be fine. While screening is helpful, it is important not to neglect discussing potential symptoms with your doctor. There are several reasons for this:
- It is possible for certain types of tumors to appear and advance in between screening periods
- Not all types of cancer have screenings and the effectiveness of screening can and does vary
- Doctors appreciate it when patients pay attention to their bodies and take the initiative to report unusual symptoms, even if the result isn’t cancer
- You shouldn’t be afraid of “wasting your doctor’s time” with a symptom. Examining patients is kind of their thing.
- Even if the problem isn’t cancer, most of the symptoms described here do suggest an underlying issue of one sort or another that should be checked out