Early symptoms of cancer in males can include changes in bowel habits, the testicles, and urination. However, the signs will depend on the type of cancer. In some cases, symptoms do not appear until a later stage.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), males are more likely to die from cancer than females in the United States.

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.

Symptoms that could be indicative of cancer include:

  1. Changes in bowel habits
  2. Urination difficulties
  3. Weight loss
  4. testicular changes
  5. Breast lumps
  6. Skin and mouth sores
  7. Persistent cough
  8. Abdominal pain
  9. Bone pain
  10. Fatigue

This article explores in more detail these 10 common early warning signs of cancer in males. Some of them can also apply to females. To learn more about cancer in females, click here.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Was this helpful?
A male standing agains the backdrop of sky, mountains, and skyscrapers.Share on Pinterest
d3sign/Getty Images

Occasional bowel habit changes can occur for various reasons and 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.

Anyone who has severe or persistent constipation or diarrhea should see a doctor, especially if their stools contain blood or they experience rectal bleeding.

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 their 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 1 in 8 males with prostate cancer.

Other symptoms of prostate cancer can include:

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.

A 2017 study defines unintentional weight loss as a person losing more than 5% 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 National Institute of Health (NIH), testicular cancer is one of the most common cancers in males ages 15-45 years. Testicular cancer does not always cause symptoms in the early stages. 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. About 1% of breast cancer cases occur in males.

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:

Males who notice any of these changes in their breasts should speak to their doctor.

Some forms of skin cancer may look similar to other types of skin sores. 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 gray 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 their doctor.

Other symptoms that can indicate a serious condition include:

Persistent or recurring abdominal pain or nausea can indicate a digestive issue, such as IBS or gastroenteritis. These symptoms can also sometimes occur due to either stomach, bile duct, or pancreatic cancer.

If a person experiences stomach pain along with any of the following symptoms, they may want to get evaluated by a doctor.

Some types of cancer, such as prostate and lung cancer, can spread to the bones. This spreading, which is called metastasis, occurs in the more advanced stages of cancer.

Bone metastasis can cause a dull, aching pain that may initially come and go before remaining constant. Cancer can also weaken bones, making them more prone to fractures.

Fatigue describes a constant feeling of tiredness or 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 in the body.

Tumors compete with healthy cells for essential nutrients, and 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 their doctor.

There are some early symptoms that may be notable for specific types of cancers in males. Most cancers are treatable. The earlier a person receives a diagnosis, the better their outcome is likely to be.

Some types of cancer may not cause noticeable symptoms until the later stages when the disease spreads to other body parts.

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.

People should see a doctor if they have any of the following symptoms:

  • abnormal moles
  • lumps in the breast
  • a persistent cough
  • hoarseness
  • blood in sputum
  • bloody stool
  • blood in urine or semen
  • unintentional weight loss
  • chest pain
  • bone pain
  • chronic headaches

The following are additional answers to questions about cancer in males.

What is the most common cause of cancer in males?

There are certain risk factors for cancer in males. These include age, ethnicity, genetics, diet, smoking, and sexually transmitted infections (STI).

How should males check for cancer?

Males should always pay attention to their bodies. If they notice any abnormalities, they must speak with their doctor. Males should also complete recommended screenings such as a colonoscopy, fecal occult blood test, and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) exam.

When should males check for cancer?

Males should start screening for cancer at age 45. If a person has any concerning symptoms that last longer than 2 weeks, they should also talk with their doctor, especially if they have certain risk factors or have a family history of cancer.

In the U.S., males are more likely to die from cancer than females. However, people can take action by being vigilant and speaking to their doctor about any unusual bodily changes or persistent symptoms.

A person can also take part in screening tests for cancer. For example, the ACS recommends that males over the age of 50 years speak with a healthcare professional about whether screening for prostate cancer would be right for them.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force also recommends that adults ages 45-75 get screened for colorectal cancer.

Early diagnosis and treatment generally improve a person’s outlook for many types of cancer.