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This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on January 29, 2022.

Cancer symptoms men shouldn’t ignore

Men are more at risk of developing and dying of cancer than women, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your body and health to monitor for symptoms, especially as you get older. Cancer becomes more and more likely as the body’s defense mechanisms slowly break down with age.

Cancer is a disease caused when cells in the body start to grow out of control. Genetic changes, or mutations, often remove the brakes that usually hold cells back from growing too quickly or stop directing cells to die off. Without these breaks and instructions, the cells act differently, and form large masses called tumors that may impact a tissue’s normal function.

Early detection is essential, as cancers found while still small are easier to treat and more likely to be survivable. There are several organs in the reproductive system of people born male that may become cancerous and cause specific symptoms.

Prostate cancer

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland in the pelvis that makes some of the components of semen. It typically grows larger with age, and tumors are common. More than half of men develop prostate cancer by age 80. In 2022, doctors will diagnose an estimated 268,490 cases of prostate cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of 96.8 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

These tumors are common, and often don’t pose a threat, since they tend to be slow-growing. Various prostate conditions that aren’t cancerous, such as benign prostate hyperplasia (an enlarged prostate) may cause similar symptoms, so it’s essential for a doctor to review any signs immediately after they start. It's important to be screened for prostate cancer before symptoms develop, since the disease is typically easier to treat in its earliest stages.

Symptoms: Changes in urination

  • More frequent urination during the day or night
  • Overwhelming urge to urinate
  • Reduced urine flow—the stream is smaller, weaker or interrupted
  • Burning sensation or pain when urinating
  • Blood in the urine, giving it pink, orange, red or brown color
  • Leaking or dribbling urine

Symptoms: Changes during ejaculation

  • Pain during ejaculation
  • Blood in semen

Symptoms: Changes in the lower extremities

  • Persistent pain in the back, hips or pelvis
  • Swelling in the thighs, calves or feet

Testicular cancer

The testicles, or testes, are the organs that make sperm and hormones. Men are usually born with two testes, located in a sac of skin behind the penis called the scrotum. Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men between age 20 and 35, but it’s relatively uncommon. About 9,910 cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2022, and the five-year survival rate is 95 percent, according to the NCI.

Symptoms:

  • Swelling or a lump in either testicle
  • Changes in how a testicle feels
  • Dull ache in the lower abdomen or groin
  • Sudden buildup of fluid in the scrotum
  • Discomfort or pain in a testicle or the groin
  • Back pain
  • The growth of breast tissue (called gynecomastia)
  • Bloody sputum or phlegm

Penile cancer

The penis is the external male genitalia and is also a part of the urinary system. Cancer of the penis is rare. Doctors diagnose about 2,070 cases each year, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). The five-year survival rate is about 65 percent.

Symptoms: Changes in the penis

  • Thickened skin or changes to the color of the skin on the penis—including small, crusty bumps or growths that are flat and bluish-brown
  • Lump on the penis
  • Sore that bleeds or doesn’t heal
  • Rash under the foreskin that is velvety and reddish
  • Bleeding or smelly discharge under the foreskin

Breast cancer

While men don’t naturally have large breasts, they have some glandular tissue around the nipple and chest that may become cancerous. Still male breast cancer is very rare. The ACS estimates that 2,710 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men in 2022. When it comes to the survival rate, about 83 percent of male breast cancer patients are alive five years after diagnosis.

Symptoms: Changes in the breast/chest

  • Swelling or a lump that's usually hard
  • Redness, irritation, flaky or dimpled skin on the chest
  • Discharge from nipple
  • Pain or pulling in of the nipple
  • A rash or sore around the nipple
  • Small, hard bumps in the armpit

Other cancers that impact men

Other than cancers of the reproductive system, a few others are more common in men than women, including lung cancer, colorectal cancers, oral cancers and skin cancers. The increased incidence of these cancers may be due to hormonal or genetic differences between men and women. Still, some of these are due to different social expectations and behavioral characteristics—like being less likely to wear UV protection or more likely to work outside in the sun for long periods.

Below are some additional symptoms to monitor and discuss with your doctor:

  • Hoarseness for a prolonged period or a persistent cough
  • Issues with constipation or diarrhea that won't go away, including blood in the stool
  • Skin changes, such as lumps or bumps that bleed easily or turn scaly, new moles or moles that have undergone recent changes, sores that won’t heal, and a yellow tint to the skin and whites of the eyes
  • Issues eating, including appetite changes, trouble swallowing, pain, nausea or vomiting after eating
  • White or red patches on the tongue or in the mouth
  • Lip or mouth bleeding, pain or numbness without a known cause
  • Bleeding or bruising without a cause like a fall or injury
  • Unexplained headaches, hearing and vision changes (like double vision), seizures, facial drooping or other neurological problems
  • Pain or lumps in the neck, underarm, stomach or groin
  • Unexplained weight loss 
  • Fatigue that doesn't subside, even with rest
  • Sores, lumps or lesions in or around the mouth that won't go away

When to see a doctor

Most of these symptoms may be normal parts of life from time to time, so don’t be too alarmed if you experience them. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak with your doctor. The older you are, the more critical it is to pay attention to your body’s signs and signals.

Get yourself checked out if:

  • Your symptoms progressively worsen or persist after a few weeks
  • You’ve lost more than 10 pounds in a month without trying
  • You notice blood in your urine or stool     
  • You have lumps or bumps that don’t go away
  • You experience unexplained pain for fatigue

Reduce your risk

While you can’t control how quickly you get older, you may be able to do some things to help detect problems early and reduce the risk of cancer:

  • Monitor your body for changes
  • Know your family history
  • Consider genetic screening if you have a family history of breast, prostate or testicular cancer
  • Schedule recommended screening tests
  • Limit alcohol use
  • Don't vape or use tobacco products, or quit if you've already started
  • Protect your skin from the sun
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a low-fat diet

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