Men and cancer


This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on April 21, 2022.

Cancer may develop in anyone at any time, but historically, cancer is diagnosed in men more often than women. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. Also, men are less likely to survive cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that 322,800 men will die from the disease in 2024, compared to 288,7820 women.

Studies have found that these differences in cancer incidences and outcomes may be attributed to lifestyle-related risk factors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol and eating fatty foods. Also, men historically are more likely to have been exposed to industrial hazards that may increase their cancer risk. Whatever the reason, men and women experience cancer differently in many ways, and they often start with anatomy.

Male-only cancers

Some cancers only affect men because they develop in the male reproductive system, which includes the prostate, testicles and penis.

Prostate cancer: The prostate is a gland that contributes to the production of semen, which carries sperm from the testicles. Prostate cancer is the most common male-only cancer and the third most common cancer in the United States. According to the ACS, more than 299,000 men will develop cancer of the prostate.

Learn more about prostate cancer

Testicular cancer: The testicles, also called the testes, produce sperm and the hormone testosterone, which helps regulate the male sex drive, muscular development and physical maturity. Cancer of the testicles is very rare. The ACS estimates that about 9,800 men a year are diagnosed with testicular cancer. Most cases of testicular cancer are diagnosed in men younger than 44.

Learn more about testicular cancer

Penile cancer: Penile cancer is found on or in the tissue of the penis. The ACS estimates that about 2,100 men are diagnosed with penile cancer each year.

Risk factors and prevention

Cancer develops when mutated cells grow out of control, forming a tumor. In most cases, the exact cause of these mutations or why cancers develop is unknown. In the case of male cancers, however, certain factors significantly increase the risk of developing these diseases. For instance:

  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) is linked to most cases of penile cancer.
  • Men whose father or brother has a history of prostate cancer are twice as likely to develop the disease.
  • Men with mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are at higher risk of developing prostate and other cancers.

While some risk factors for cancers are out of their control, men can help reduce their risk by exercising, eating a diet low in saturated fat, maintaining a healthy weight and quitting smoking.

Screening and diagnosis

As with many cancers, more options may be available to treat male-only cancers when they are diagnosed or detected early. For example:

Men with early symptoms of these cancers or who find irregularities during a self-examination should talk to their doctor to determine if further tests are required. If you have a family history of cancer, talk to your doctor about how often you should be screened.

Learn more about diagnostic procedures

10 cancer symptoms men are likely to ignore

Cancer symptoms may sometimes be attributed initially to other less serious conditions. But when symptoms persist, they may be a sign of cancer or another disease. Some of these symptoms include:

Cancer treatment and side effects for men

Men who develop gender-specific cancers may be concerned about their ability to reproduce and their sexual desire and performance. Treatment options to remove skin and tissue affected by cancer may interfere with sexual and fertility functions. For instance:

  • Testicular cancer treatments may require removal of one or both testicles, which would reduce sperm count and/or lead to infertility. Radiation therapy for testicular cancer may also reduce sperm count. Removal of the testicles reduces testosterone production, which may affect sexual desire and performance.
  • Treatment for prostate cancer may require reducing the production of testosterone, which may affect sexual performance. Prostate cancer treatment may also affect the body’s ability to ejaculate. Prostate cancer surgery may damage nerves around the prostate that allow a man to become erect.
  • Treatment for penile cancer usually requires surgery, which may cause disfigurement and scarring.

It is important that men discuss their cancer treatment options and related side effects with their doctor before making decisions about a treatment plan.

Learn more about supportive care

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