Early detection of cancer is often vital to successful treatment, and knowing the symptoms to look for can make the difference. Unfortunately, some men may overlook these early signs of cancer.
Men are more likely than women to put off a doctor’s visit. In fact, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, men are 24 percent less likely than women to have seen a doctor in the last year. Putting off seeing your doctor can have serious health consequences, including missing the early symptoms of cancer.
"Early detection of cancer offers the chance for a cure," said Dr. David Winter, the Chief Clinical Officer, President and Chairman of the Board of HealthTexas Provider Network (HTPN), a division of Baylor Health Care System.
"Late stage cancer is much more difficult to treat," Dr. Winter told dailyRx News. "New, unexplained symptoms should always be investigated."
Many early warning signs of cancer may instead be symptoms of less serious conditions, such as heartburn or fever. Any condition or symptom that lasts for more than two weeks should be addressed by a doctor who may be able to diagnose the root of the problem, including the possibility of cancer.
Here are some early signs and symptoms of cancer that men might miss.
Stomach aches and chronic upset stomach are among the early signs of colon, liver, stomach and pancreatic cancer. While these symptoms are often caused by other conditions, they are well worth having checked by a doctor, especially if they last for more than a couple weeks.
Unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more, with no change in diet or exercise, can be a symptom of stomach and pancreatic cancers as well as lung cancer. While unexplained weight loss is likely to be caused by more common digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, hyperthyroidism or diabetes, it is important to speak with a doctor and treat the cause of these symptoms.
Heartburn isn’t considered unusual after devouring a burrito or spicy pizza, but frequent episodes or a constant burning in the chest after eating can be a sign of worse conditions. One cause could be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can cause Barrett’s esophagus, a condition in which the cells lining the esophagus begin to change and closely resemble the intestinal lining. Barrett’s esophagus can be a precursor to esophageal cancer.
Constipation or diarrhea that lasts more than two weeks can be a symptom of colorectal cancer, more commonly called colon cancer. Some colon cancer patients have said they had the feeling that their bowels were still full even after having emptied them recently.
Stools that become more frequent, are paler than normal, and have an unusually foul odor can be a sign of pancreatic cancer. While changes in frequency, color and consistency of the stool can be normal, changes that last more than two weeks should be discussed with your doctor.
Signs in the Blood
Easy and excessive bruising and bleeding that won’t stop are possible signs of leukemia. Bruising at the finger tips and bleeding of the gums unrelated to gum disease also can be early symptoms of leukemia. As the abnormal leukemia cells become more prevalent in the bloodstream, it becomes more difficult for blood to clot.
Blood in the toilet or dark stools should be reason enough to see a doctor, but many people chalk it up to hemorrhoids. This is a case of better safe than sorry — see your doctor as bloody or dark stools can be a symptom of colon cancer.
Blood in urine or semen is also cause for concern, as it can be a sign of prostate cancer. Blood in urine may appear pink, dark brown or red, while semen with blood may have pinkish streaks.
Pain and swelling
Lumps around the neck, under the arms or around the groin may be a sign that your body is fighting an infection, but can also be a symptom of cancer. Lumps around the neck or under the arm can signal throat, thyroid or head cancer as well as leukemia, which can also show up as lumps in the groin area.
Swelling of the testicles can be a symptom of testicular cancer, even if there is no specific lump that can be felt. While the swelling may be uncomfortable, it usually is not painful.
Back pain can come from pulled muscles or spinal problems, but unexplained, persistent back pain can be a symptom of cancer. Lower back or hip pain can mean prostate cancer. Pain in the middle of the back can be a sign of pancreatic cancer, while pain focused at the upper back can be a symptom of lung cancer.
Breathing and swallowing
Lung cancer patients often recall wheezing and difficulty catching their breath before being diagnosed. Shortness of breath also can be a sign of other conditions that should be treated by a doctor, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart disease.
Chronic cough can be an alert for leukemia and lung tumors. While a cough can be a symptom of non-cancerous illnesses, such as bronchitis, a long lasting cough or one that keeps coming back should be addressed by a health professional.
Chronic pain or a sense of pressure that makes swallowing difficult can be an early sign of esophageal cancer. The need to clear the throat or a feeling that food is stuck in the chest can also be a cancer warning sign if it continues.
Skin and nails
Jaundice is often associated with infants, but for adults, jaundice can be a symptom of pancreatic cancer. Jaundice is the yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes, but can also show itself as urine that is darker than normal and clay colored stools.
Brown spots, moles or birthmarks that change size, shape or color can indicate skin cancer. Spots that remain sore, don’t heal or bleed for an unusual period of time should also be looked at by a doctor. Skin cancer can be easy to treat if caught early.
Finger or toenails that have dark streaks and dots or that develop cracks that run the length of the nail can be a sign of skin cancer under the nail. Nails that turn down over the tips can be a sign of lung cancer, and extremely white nails can be an indicator of liver cancer.
Difficulty or pain when urinating, as well as changes in flow can be a sign of prostate cancer or simply an enlarging prostate. A doctor can identify and treat either condition before they can cause bigger problems down the road.
Reoccurring fevers or infections can signal leukemia, a cancer that starts in the bone marrow, causing abnormalities in the blood cells. White blood cells that have been affected are not able to fight infection effectively, leading to additional and more severe infections.
Diagnosing any cancer early can greatly improve the chances of a successful treatment and recovery. Talk to your doctor about any persistent symptoms that concern you so you can receive treatment, even if it turns out to be something far less ominous than cancer.