One of the best ways to fight cancer is to catch it in the early stages, when it’s more treatable. The problem is that the warning signs for many kinds of cancer can seem pretty mild and so we ignore them.
Below are 15 signs and symptoms of cancer to which men especially should pay attention. Some are linked more strongly to cancer than others. If you have one or more of the following symptoms, you should have a good talk with your doctor.
1. Problems When You Pee
Many men have some problems with urinating as they get older, e.g.:
- A need to pee more often, especially at night
- Dribbling, leaking, or an urgent need to go
- Trouble starting to pee, or a weak stream
An enlarged prostate gland usually causes these symptoms, but so can prostate cancer. See your doctor for an exam to look for an enlarged prostate and/or a PSA blood test.
2. Changes in Your Testicles
“If you notice a lump, heaviness, or any other change in your testicle, never delay having it looked at,” says Herbert Lepor, MD, urology chairman at New York University Langone Medical Center. “Unlike prostate cancer, which grows slowly, testicular cancer can take off overnight.” Your doctor will look for any problems with a physical exam, blood tests, and an ultrasound of your scrotum.
3. Blood in Your Pee or Stool
These can be among the first signs of cancer of the bladder, kidneys, or colon. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in America. Although you’re more likely to have a problem that’s not cancer, like hemorrhoids or a urinary infection, it’s a good idea to see your doctor for any bleeding that’s not normal, even if you don’t have other symptoms.
4. Skin Changes
When you notice a change in the size, shape, or color of a mole or other spot on your skin, see your doctor as soon as you can. Spots that are new or look different are top signs of skin cancer. You’ll need an exam and perhaps a biopsy, which means doctors remove a small piece of tissue for testing. With skin cancer, you don’t want to wait, says Marleen Meyers, MD, an oncologist at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center.
5. Changes in Lymph Nodes
Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped glands found in your neck, armpits, and other places. When swollen, that’s often a signal that something’s going on in your body. Usually, they mean your immune system is fighting a sore throat or cold, but certain cancers also can make them change. Have your doctor check any swelling that doesn’t get better in 2 to 4 weeks.
6. Trouble Swallowing
Some people have trouble swallowing from time to time. But if your problems don’t go away and you’re also losing weight or vomiting, see your doctor to get checked for throat or stomach cancer, beginning with a throat exam and barium X-ray. During a barium test, you drink a special liquid that makes your throat stand out on the X-ray.
Most cases of heartburn can be ameliorated with changes to your diet, drinking habits, and stress levels. But if heartburn doesn’t go away or gets worse, it can signify stomach or throat cancer.
8. Mouth Changes
If you smoke or chew tobacco, you have a higher risk of mouth or oral cancer. Keep an eye out for white or red patches inside your mouth or on your lips. That’s another reason to have regular dental visits because the first sign of many diseases appears in your mouth.
9. Weight Loss Without Trying
Pants fitting a little looser? If you haven’t changed your diet or exercise habits, it could mean that stress or a thyroid problem is taking a toll. But losing 10 pounds or more without trying isn’t normal. Although most unintended weight loss is not cancer, it’s one of the signs of cancer of the pancreas, stomach, or lungs. Your doctor can find out more with blood tests and tools that make detailed pictures of the inside of your body, like a CT or PET scan.
A fever is usually not a bad thing — it means your body is fighting an infection. But one that won’t go away and doesn’t have an explanation could signal leukemia or another blood cancer. Your doctor should take your medical history and give you a physical exam to check on the cause.
11. Breast Changes
Since breast cancer is uncommon in men, accounting only for 1% of all breast cancers, men tend to ignore breast lumps. If you find a lump, don’t take any chances. Tell your doctor and have it checked.
Many types of cancer cause a bone-deep tiredness that never gets better, no matter how much rest you get. It’s different from the exhaustion you feel after a hectic week or a lot of activity. If fatigue is affecting your daily life, talk to your doctor. She can help you find the cause and let you know if there are ways to treat it.
In nonsmokers, a nagging cough is almost never cancer. Most go away after 3 to 4 weeks. If yours doesn’t, and you’re short of breath or cough up blood, don’t delay a visit to your doctor, especially if you smoke. A cough is the most common sign of lung cancer. Your doctor can test mucus from your lungs to see if you have an infection, and give you a chest X-ray to check.
Cancer doesn’t cause most aches and pains, but if you’re hurting for more than a month, don’t just grin and bear it. Ongoing pain can be a signal of many types of cancer, especially those that have spread.
15. Belly Pain and Depression
It’s rare, but depression along with stomach pain can be a sign of cancer of the pancreas. Should you worry? Not unless this cancer runs in your family, then you need to see your doctor.
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