Men & Cancer: Early Detection and What Not to Ignore

Early detection and treatment are key to surviving cancer. Both men and women can greatly improve their outcomes if they recognize the symptoms of cancer early. Would you know what to look for? We have broken down a list for men specifically. Please share this important life-saving information with your friends and family. If you have any questions about these symptoms specific to your health, contact your primary care physician.


Changes in Breast Mass

Breast cancer is not typically the type of cancer on most men’s radar. Only 1 percent of all breast cancers are male breast cancer. Knowing what to look for is just as important for men as it is for women. If you notice any new mass or lump, that should be checked by a physician. Other changes to look for include: skin dimpling or puckering, nipple retraction, discharge from the nipple, and redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin.  

Changes in Testicles

Some forms of testicular cancer can strike very quickly. It is important to be aware of any changes in size, swelling, lumps, or feelings of heaviness. Men should have testicular exams during their annual physicals. Testicular cancer is often diagnosed at a young age, most between 20 and 39 years old.

Urinary Problems

While urinary problems tend to occur more often in older men, you should pay attention to these problems, especially if they worsen. They include: urge to urinate more frequently and at night, a sense of urgency to urinate, feeling like you have not completed emptied your bladder after urinating, inability to start urinating, leaking when coughing or laughing, and a weakening in the urine stream. If you have noticed these symptoms, they could indicate prostate cancer and need to be checked by a physician.

Severe headache

Do you have a severe headache that strikes out of nowhere for no apparent reason? Headaches can be common in people with cancer, but certainly don’t indicate cancer on their own. If you have persistent or unexplained headaches pay attention to the following and discuss with your physician: timing, duration, frequency, possible triggers, severity and type of pain (throbbing, piercing or dull pain). Additionally, it is not uncommon to experience side effects of severe headaches, including vomiting, blurred vision and sensitivity to light. Headaches can be caused by cancers of the brain, spinal cord, upper throat cancer and some lymphomas.

Unexplained Weight Loss

Have you recently noticed you have lost a significant amount of weight without trying? For men, if you lose more than 10 percent of your weight over the course of 6 months, it is time to consult with your physician. Weight loss can be an indication of tumor growth, specifically related to pancreatic, esophageal and lung cancers.

Changes in Bowel Habits

If you notice changes in your bowels, they could be a sign of colon cancer. Change in color as well as presence of blood are both important to pay attention to and discuss with your physician. Color that is very dark (almost black) and red are both red flags for colon cancer. Any amount of blood in your bowels should be discussed with your physician. Additionally, if you experience consistent diarrhea or constipation lasting more than a few days, tell your physician. Colon cancer can also cause a change in the stool size, making bowel movements smaller and more narrow than normal. There are tests your physician can order to determine if you need further screening, like a colonoscopy.  

Skin Changes

If over the course of a few weeks you notice changes in your skin pigmentation or a mole that didn’t used to be there or looks different, discuss those changes with your physician especially if they look suspicious of skin cancer. Moles are mostly benign tumors on your skin and can come in many colors, shapes and sizes.  Moles that are of concern are those that are asymmetrical with borders that are not clearly defined (ragged or blurred), have more than one color within the mole and greater than 6mm in diameter.  It is easy to notice the skin on your arms and legs, but don’t forget about the rest of your body.  Do a regular full-body check in the mirror so you don’t miss anything on your back, neck or back of your arms and legs.

Difficulty Swallowing

Men who notice they have a difficult time swallowing foods they regularly eat may change their diet to work around this problem. However, eating more soup or liquid foods will not solve the problem completely if it is an indication of esophageal cancer. Your physician will need to do further testing and possibly refer you to a GI specialist to examine your esophagus and upper GI tract.

Persistent Coughing and Blood

A persistent cough for more than three or four weeks should be discussed with your physician.  While coughing can be common with illness like a cold or the flu, coughing that doesn’t stop, especially with the presence of blood, could be a symptom of cancer.  Your physician will work to determine the source of the cough and discuss treatment options with you.


Are you not feeling like you have the energy to do the things you could a few months ago? A sudden drop in energy or consistent feeling of fatigue could also be a symptom of cancer. Fatigue can set in early with cancer including leukemia, colon cancer or stomach cancer. If changing your lifestyle to accommodate better rest does help make you feel better or reduce your fatigue, call your physician.

White or Red Patches in the Mouth

White or red patches in the mouth are not typically cancer, but can be precancerous. The only way to determine if these abnormal cells are precancerous is to biopsy a tissue sample. Additionally, if you have an ulcer in your mouth that does not heal, contact your physician. 80 percent of people who have mouth cancer have a mouth ulcer that did not heal.

Persistent Indigestion

Men might association the persistent discomfort of indigestion with a more serious threat, a heart attack. However, indigestion that does not go away or occurs often could be a sign of cancers of the esophagus, stomach and throat. Discuss persistent indigestion, especially if it worsens, with your physician.


Pain can be an indication of many things, of which we might be inclined to brush off and ignore.  However, pain that continues or worsens should be discussed with your physician. Pain can be an early indication of some cancers.  


Fever is much like the symptom, headache. If you have a fever that is unexplained, not a result of an illness like the flu or an infection, it could be a symptom of cancer. Fever can be an indication of blood cancers like leukemia or lymphoma.  Fever can also indicate that a cancer has spread from the origin. If your unexplained fever continues more than three days, call your physician.

Abdominal Pain and Depression Together

Recently researchers have discovered a link between severe abdominal pain and depression as jointly a symptom for pancreatic cancer. Typically this symptom is accompanied by other symptoms of pancreatic cancer including a change in bowel color, jaundice and itching over the entire body. If you experience feelings of depression along with consistent pain in your stomach, contact your physician.