What are the early symptoms of cancer in men?
Some people may not notice the early signs of cancer or may confuse them for symptoms of other conditions. Knowing which symptoms may indicate cancer can help a person get treatment sooner.
In this article, we explore some common early warning signs of cancer in males.
Changes in bowel habits
A common early warning sign of cancer may be a change in bowel habits.
Occasional changes in bowel habits can occur for a variety of reasons, and they are usually not a cause for concern.
However, long-term bowel changes can be a sign of some digestive disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). These changes can also sometimes indicate certain types of cancer, including colorectal, bladder, and prostate cancer.
Both hemorrhoids and colorectal cancer can cause itching, pain, rectal bleeding, and bloody stools. However, hemorrhoids tend to flare up and then get better, so symptoms may only appear intermittently. If a person experiences persistent or increased bleeding from the rectum, this may indicate cancer rather than hemorrhoids.
People who notice blood in their urine or semen or have consistent difficulty urinating should see a doctor. These symptoms can indicate bladder cancer.
Painful or difficult urination can also be a sign of prostate cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), doctors will diagnose about one in nine men with prostate cancer.
Other symptoms of prostate cancer can include:
- a burning sensation when urinating
- a weak urine stream
- erectile dysfunction
- loss of bladder or bowel control
Minor changes in body weight can occur throughout the day. Large meals, intense workouts, and drinking water can temporarily affect a person's body weight. However, people who experience unintentional weight loss should speak with a doctor.
One study paper defines unintentional weight loss as a person losing more than 5 percent of their body weight in less than 12 months without making any dietary or lifestyle changes.
Unintentional weight loss does not necessarily mean that a person has cancer. However, people should not ignore this symptom as it can be a warning sign of many different health conditions.
According to the NCI, testicular cancer is a rare condition that doctors most commonly diagnose in men aged 20–34 years. Testicular cancer does not always cause symptoms in the early stages, and the first noticeable sign is often a lump on a testicle.
Other symptoms of testicular cancer can include:
- pain in one or both testicles
- changes in the size or firmness of a testicle
- pain or numbness of the scrotum
- swelling of the scrotum
- a dull ache in the groin
Testicular changes do not always indicate testicular cancer. Bacterial and viral infections can also cause swelling and pain in the testicles. However, it is still important for anyone who notices changes in their testicles to see a doctor.
Although it is rare, males can also get breast cancer. Below the nipples, males have a small amount of breast tissue that contains ducts. Breast cancer in males often begins in these ducts and spreads to the surrounding breast tissue.
Breast changes that can indicate cancer include:
- a swelling or lump
- dimpling of the skin
- nipple discharge
- scaling or redness
- an inverted nipple
Males who notice any of these changes in their breasts should speak to a doctor.
Skin and mouth sores
A person may develop oral cancer from untreated leukoplakia.
Image credit: Dermnet New Zealand
Some forms of skin cancer may look similar to other types of skin sore. In the early stages, skin cancer can present as firm red bumps that bleed or develop a dry, scaly top.
Early-stage oral cancer can cause large red lesions or open sores in the mouth. Some people develop leukoplakia, a condition in which white or grey patches occur on the inside of the mouth and the tongue. If they do not receive treatment, leukoplakia can progress into oral cancer.
Tobacco use can significantly increase a person's risk of developing mouth sores, leukoplakia, and oral cancer.
A cough that does not go away or worsens over time can be a sign of several serious health conditions, including lung cancer. People who have a persistent cough with no obvious cause should speak to a doctor.
Other symptoms that can indicate a serious condition include:
- coughing up blood
- excessive mucus production
- difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- chest pain
Stomach pain and nausea
Persistent or recurring stomach pain and nausea can indicate a digestive issue, such as IBD or gastroenteritis. However, these symptoms can also sometimes occur due to either stomach, bile duct, or pancreatic cancer.
Some types of cancer, such as prostate and lung cancer, can spread to the bones. This spreading, which is called bone metastasis, occurs in the more advanced stages of the disease.
Bone metastasis can cause a dull, aching pain that may initially come and go before remaining constant. Cancer can weaken bones, making them more prone to fractures.
Fatigue describes a constant feeling of tiredness or a lack of energy. Many chronic conditions, including cancer, can cause fatigue.
Some cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, can disrupt the production of red blood cells, which transport oxygen throughout the body. People who have a low red blood cell count may experience fatigue due to less oxygen circulating the body.
Tumors compete with healthy cells for essential nutrients, and the healthy cells will die if they cannot get enough nourishment. Uncontrolled tumor growth can cause fatigue and rapid weight loss.
Fatigue from cancer does not improve with sleep. People who experience persistent, unexplained fatigue should speak to a doctor.
When to see a doctor
A person should see a doctor if they are aware of changes in their body.
Some types of cancer may not cause any noticeable symptoms until the later stages when the disease spreads to other parts of the body.
However, staying vigilant and being aware of bodily changes can help people get a diagnosis sooner. Early diagnosis and treatment generally improve a person's outlook for most cancers.
See a doctor for any of the following symptoms:
- a persistent cough with no obvious cause
- blood in sputum
- bloody stools or rectal bleeding
- blood in urine or semen
- unintentional weight loss
- severe or ongoing chest pain
- bone pain
- chronic headaches
In the United States, men have a higher risk of dying from cancer than women. However, people can take action by being vigilant and speaking to a doctor about any unusual bodily changes or persistent symptoms.
A person can also take part in screening tests for cancer. For instance, the ACS recommend that men over the age of 50 years speak with a healthcare provider about whether screening for prostate cancer would be right for them.
Early diagnosis and treatment generally improve a person's outlook for many types of cancer.