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, from 2009 to 2019, cancer death rates went down more among males (31%) than among females (25%) but were still higher among males (172.9 deaths per 100,000 population) than females (126.2 deaths per 100,000 population).

The top five cancers in males over 40 are:

1. Prostate
2. Lung
3. Colorectal
4. Bladder
5. Melanoma

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

Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. The American Cancer Society’s estimates for prostate cancer in the United States for 2021 are:

  • About 248,530 new cases of prostate cancer
  • About 34,130 deaths from prostate cancer

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

Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society’s estimates for the number of colorectal cancer cases in the United States for 2021 are:

  • 104,270 new cases of colon cancer
  • 45,230 new cases of rectal cancer

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

The American Cancer Society’s estimates for lung cancer in the United States for 2021 are:

  • About 235,760 new cases of lung cancer (119,100 in men and 116,660 in women)
  • About 131,880 deaths from lung cancer (69,410 in men and 62,470 in women)

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, we can help. The Erlanger Cancer Institute offers comprehensive services provided by a team of academic oncologists.