What men should know about cancer

Cancer may seem like an imposing word, but knowing about the common types of cancer and how to prevent them may help save your life.

While heart disease is the leading cause of death among American men, cancer isn’t far behind. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23.5 percent of all deaths among men in 2013 were caused by some type of cancer.

How can you help protect yourself — or the men in your life — from cancer? Read on for a look at three of the most common types of cancer among men: prostate, colorectal and lung cancers.

Prostate cancer

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), more than 180,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed during 2016, including approximately 3,370 in Tennessee.

Prostate cancer occurs when the cells in the prostate gland begin to grow uncontrollably. In its earliest stages, prostate cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms, but men with more advanced prostate cancer may experience:

  • Difficulty urinating
  • A need to urinate more frequently
  • Blood in urine or semen
  • Pain in the back, chest or hips
  • Erectile dysfunction

Certain men are at a higher risk of developing the disease, including men age 65 or older, African-Americans, those with a family history of the disease and those with specific genetic mutations. These risk factors can’t be controlled, but leading a healthy lifestyle can help limit your overall risk.

In addition to eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and not smoking, be sure to see your doctor for regular checkups. Beginning around age 50, talk with your doctor about whether screening, which includes prostate-specific antigen tests and digital rectal exams, is right for you.

Colorectal cancer

Around 3,130 new cases of colorectal cancer are expected to be diagnosed in 2016, according to the ACS — part of nearly 135,000 nationwide. The good news is that colorectal cancer is largely preventable.

Colorectal cancer typically begins as a polyp on the lining of the colon or rectum. Polyps aren’t always cancerous, and if they are, usually take several years to develop into cancer.

As with prostate cancer, symptoms may not occur when the cancer is in its earliest stages. In latter stages, it may cause:

  • Changes in bowel habits lasting more than a few days
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in the stool
  • Abdominal discomfort or cramping
  • Weight loss of an unknown cause

Risk for colorectal cancer increases with age, and the condition is most common among those older than age 50. African-Americans, those with a personal history of polyps or inflammatory bowel disease, those with certain inherited syndromes and those with Type 2 diabetes are also at increased risk.

The best thing you can do to lower your risk of colorectal cancer is to receive colorectal cancer screenings as recommended. At age 50 (or younger if you have risk factors), talk with your doctor about what type of colorectal cancer screening, including colonoscopy, is right for you.

Lung cancer

You could have probably guessed that prostate cancer and colorectal cancer were common among men, but what about lung cancer? According to the ACS, nearly 225,000 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed in 2016, including approximately 6,010 in Tennessee.

The first step to preventing lung cancer? Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, talk with your doctor about a cessation method to help you stop. You can also call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for help.

Smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer — causing about 80 percent of lung cancer deaths, according to the ACS. Exposure to secondhand smoke, radon, asbestos or severe air pollution, radiation therapy to the lungs, and a personal or family history of the disease also increase your risk.

Talk with your doctor if you experience:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away
  • Coughed-up blood
  • Chest pain that worsens when breathing, coughing or laughing
  • Severe or recurrent shortness of breath
  • Hoarseness or wheezing

Take the first step in lowering your risk of cancer by having regular checkups. If you or a loved one have cancer, Erlanger Health System can help. Our Center of Excellence offers comprehensive services provided by a team of academic oncologists.