Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
(Article contributed by Kalyani Rodrigo, Past President -UoCMBAAA 2004/2005)
heed these possible clues and find cancer early, when it's more
Reviewed by Louise
Some men are notorious foot-draggers, especially
when it comes to scheduling doctor visits. That’s unfortunate.
Routine preventive care can find cancer in men and other diseases in
the early stages, when there are more options for treatment and
better chances of a cure. Some men, though, would never go to the
doctor except for the women in their life. According to Leonard
Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer for the national office
of the American Cancer Society, women are often the ones who push men
to get screened for cancer.
Experts say that men could benefit
greatly by being alert to certain cancer symptoms that indicate a
trip to the doctor’s office sooner rather than later. Some of those
cancer symptoms in men are specific. They involve certain body parts
and may even point directly to the possibility of cancer. Other
symptoms are more vague. For instance, pain that affects many body
parts could have dozens of explanations and may not be cancer. But
that doesn’t mean you can rule out cancer without seeing a
Is Your Cancer Risk? Take the WebMD Cancer Health Check
in Men No. 1: Breast Mass
you’re like most men, you’ve probably never considered the
possibility of having breast cancer. Although it’s not common, it
is possible. "Any new mass in the breast area of a man needs to
be checked out by a physician," Lichtenfeld says.
addition, the American Cancer Society identifies several other
worrisome signs involving the breast that men as well as women should
take note of. They include:
Skin dimpling or puckering
Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin
When you consult your physician about any of
these signs, expect him to take a careful history and do a physical
exam. Then, depending on the findings, the doctor may order a
mammogram, a biopsy, or other tests.
Symptom in Men No. 2: Pain
they age, people often complain of more aches and pains. But pain, as
vague as it may be, can be an early symptom of some cancers although
most pain complaints are not from cancer.
Any pain that
persists, according to the American Cancer Society, should be checked
out by your physician. The doctor can take a careful history, get
more details, and then decide whether further testing is necessary,
and if so what kind. If it's not cancer, you will still benefit from
the visit to the office. That’s because the doctor can work with
you to find out what's causing the pain and help you know what to do
Cancer Symptom in
Men No. 3: Changes in the Testicles
cancer occurs most often in men aged 20 to 39. The American Cancer
Society recommends that men get a testicular exam by a doctor as part
of a routine cancer-related checkup. And some doctors suggest a
Symptom in Men No. 3: Changes in the Testicles continued...
tells WebMD that being aware of troublesome testicular symptoms
between exams is wise. "Any change in the size of the testicles,
such as growth or shrinkage," Yu says, “should be a concern.”
In addition, swelling or a lump should not be ignored. Nor should a
feeling of heaviness in the scrotum. Some testicular cancers occur
very quickly. So early detection is especially crucial. Yu recalls a
young man who waited until his testicle was the size of a grapefruit
before coming in for help. "If you feel a hard lump of coal [in
your testicle], get it checked right away," Yu says.
doctor will do a testicular exam and an overall assessment of your
health. If cancer is suspected, blood tests may be ordered. You may
undergo an ultrasound examination of your scrotum. Your doctor may
also decide to do a biopsy, taking a tiny sample of testicular tissue
to examine it for cancer.
Symptom in Men No. 4: Changes in the Lymph Nodes
you notice a lump or swelling in the lymph nodes under your armpit or
in your neck -- or anywhere else -- it could be a reason for concern,
says Hannah Linden, MD. Linden is a medical oncologist and an
associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington
School of Medicine. She is also a joint associate member of the Fred
Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Wash. "If you have
a lymph node that gets progressively larger, and it's been longer
than a month, see a doctor," she says.
Your doctor will
examine you and figure out any associated issues that could explain
the lymph node enlargement, such as infection. If there is no
infection, a doctor will typically order a biopsy.
Symptom in Men No. 5: Fever
you've got an unexplained fever, it may indicate cancer. It could
also be a sign of pneumonia or some other illness that needs
Most cancers will cause fever at some point. Often,
fever occurs after the cancer has spread from its original site and
invaded another part of the body. But it can also be caused by blood
cancers such as lymphoma or leukemia, according to the American
Cancer Society. It’s best not to ignore a fever that can’t be
explained. Check with your doctor to find out what might be causing
it and if anything needs to be done.
Symptom in Men No. 6: Weight Loss Without Trying
weight loss is a concern, Lichtenfeld says. "Most of us don't
lose weight easily." He's talking about more than simply a few
pounds from a stepped up exercise program or to eating less because
of a busy schedule. If a man loses more than 10% of his body weight
in a short time period such as a matter of weeks, it’s time to see
the doctor, he says.
Your doctor will do a general physical,
ask you questions about your diet and exercise, and ask about other
symptoms. Based on that information, the doctor will decide what
other tests are needed.
Symptom in Men No. 7: Gnawing Abdominal Pain and Depression
guy who's got a pain in the abdomen and is feeling depressed needs a
checkup,” says Lichtenfeld. Experts have found a link between
depression and pancreatic cancer. Other symptoms can include
jaundice or a change in the stool color, often a gray color.
your doctor to do a careful physical exam and take a history. The
doctor may then order tests such as a chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI, and,
possibly, other scans and tests.
Symptom in Men No. 8: Fatigue
is another vague symptom that could point to cancer in men. But a
host of other problems could cause it as well. Like fever, fatigue
can set in after the cancer has grown. But it may also happen early
in cancers such as leukemia or with some colon or stomach cancers,
according to the American Cancer Society.
If you often feel
extremely tired and it doesn’t get better with rest, check with
your doctor. The doctor will evaluate it along with any other
symptoms in order to determine what’s causing it and what can be
done about it.
Symptom in Men No. 9: Persistent Cough
are expected, of course, with colds, the flu, and allergies. They are
also sometimes a side effect of a medication. But a very prolonged
cough -- defined as lasting more than three or four weeks -- should
not be ignored, says Ranit Mishori, MD, assistant professor and
director of the family medicine clerkship at Georgetown University
School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. That kind of cough warrants a
visit to the doctor. It could be a symptom of cancer, or it could
indicate some other problem such as chronic bronchitis or acid
Your doctor will take a careful history, examine your
throat, check how your lungs are functioning, and, especially if you
are a smoker, perhaps order X-rays. Once the reason for the coughing
is identified, the doctor will work with you to determine a treatment
Symptom in Men No. 10: Difficulty Swallowing
men may report trouble swallowing but then learn to live with it,
Lichtenfeld says. "Over time, they change their diet to a more
liquid diet. They start to drink more soup." But swallowing
difficulties, he says, could be a sign of a GI cancer, such as cancer
of the esophagus.
Let your doctor know if you are having
trouble swallowing. Your doctor will take a careful history and
possibly order a chest X-ray. The doctor may also send you to a
specialist for an upper endoscopy to examine your esophagus and upper
Symptom in Men No. 11: Changes in the Skin
should be alert to not only changes in moles -- a well-known sign of
potential skin cancer -- but also changes in skin pigmentation, says
Mary Daly, MD. Daly is an oncologist and head of the department of
clinical genetics at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in
She also says that suddenly developing bleeding
on your skin or excessive scaling are reasons to check with your
doctor. It's difficult to say how long is too long to observe skin
changes, but most experts say not to wait longer than several
To find out what’s causing the changes, your doctor
will take a careful history and perform a careful physical exam. The
doctor may also order a biopsy to rule out cancer.
Symptom in Men No. 12: Blood Where It Shouldn't Be
you see blood coming from a body part where you've never seen it
before, see a doctor,” Lichtenfeld says. "If you start
coughing or spitting up blood, have blood in the bowel, or blood in
the urine, it’s time for a doctor visit.”
it’s a mistake to assume blood in the stool is simply from a
hemorrhoid. "It could be colon cancer," he says.
doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. The doctor may
also order tests such as a colonoscopy, which is an examination of
the colon using a long flexible tube with a camera on one end. The
purpose of a colonoscopy is to identify any signs of cancer or
precancer or to identify what else might be causing the
Symptom in Men No. 13: Mouth Changes
you smoke or chew tobacco, you need to be especially alert for any
white patches inside your mouth or white spots on your tongue. Those
changes may indicate leukoplakia, a precancerous area that can occur
with ongoing irritation. The condition can progress to oral
You should report the changes to your doctor or
dentist. The dentist or doctor will take a careful history, examine
the changes, and then decide what other tests might be
Symptom in Men No. 14: Urinary Problems
men age, urinary problems become more frequent, says Yu. He's talking
about the urge to urinate more often, a sense of urgency, and a
feeling of not completely emptying the bladder. "Every man will
develop these problems as he gets older," he says. "But if
you notice it and it concerns you, you should seek attention."
That's especially true if the symptoms get worse.
will do a digital rectal exam, which will tell him whether the
prostate gland is enlarged. The gland often enlarges as a man ages.
It’s typically caused by a noncancerous condition called benign
prostatic hyperplasia or BPH. Your doctor may also order a blood test
to check the level of prostate-specific antigen or PSA. PSA is a
protein produced by the prostate gland, and the test is used to help
determine the possibility of prostate cancer. If the doctor notices
abnormalities in the prostate or if the PSA is higher than it should
be, your doctor may refer you to an urologist and perhaps order a
Symptom in Men No. 15: Indigestion
lot of guys, especially as they get older, think "heart attack"
when they get bad indigestion, even if they've just eaten and drunk
their way through a marathon Super Bowl viewing. But persistent
indigestion could point to cancer of the esophagus, throat, or
stomach and should be reported to your doctor.
will take a careful history and ask questions about the indigestion
episodes. Based on the history and your answers to the questions, the
doctor will decide what tests are needed.