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by Dr. C.H. Weaver M.D. updated 5/2022

Men tend to be less likely than women to visit their doctors—even when they experience a suspicious change to their bodies or health. This is a risky behavior, especially when it comes to cancer. Regular screenings and examinations, especially when something doesn’t feel right, can help everyone detect cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages. Routine screening for the early detection of cancer should be part of every mans overall health plan.

The following 15 symptoms are potential signs of cancer. All men should consult their doctors if they experience any of these symptoms. By undergoing the appropriate examinations and tests, you may be able to prevent an early cancer from spreading or have the peace of mind of knowing that you don’t have cancer. If your condition is not the result of cancer, your doctor can help you treat the cause of the discomfort or abnormality.

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1. Breast Mass

Breast cancer can affect men as well as women, making it important for men to be aware of changes in the breast. A mass (or lump) should be checked out by a physician and so should changes such as skin dimpling or puckering, nipple retraction, redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin, and nipple discharge.

2. Pain

It’s common to experience pain from time to time, and increasingly so with age. Though most pain is not caused by cancer, pain that persists can signal cancer or other serious conditions and should be examined by your doctor.

3. Changes in the Testicles

Changes in the testicles can be a sign of testicular cancer, a disease that most often affects men in their twenties and thirties. Changes to look for include growth or shrinkage, swelling, a lump, or a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum. Regular self-exams and testicular exams by a doctor can help detect these symptoms.

4. Changes in the Lymph Nodes

An infection can cause swelling in the lymph nodes under the armpit, in the neck, and in other places in the body. It’s also possible that lymph node swelling can be a sign of cancer. See your doctor if lymph node swelling seems different from previous infections, such as if nodes become more enlarged or swelling persists for more than a month.

5. Fever

A fever for no known reason is always a concern, as it can be caused by illnesses such as pneumonia as well as cancer. When fever is caused by cancer, it may indicate that cancer has spread from its original site to another part of the body or it may be sign of a blood cancer such as lymphoma or leukemia.

6. Unexplained Weight Loss

If you lose weight without trying, you should consult your doctor. For men a rapid (within weeks) loss of more than 10% of body weight is cause for concern.

7. Abdominal Pain and Depression

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The combination of abdominal pain and depression is a cause for concern about pancreatic cancer, particularly if these symptoms are accompanied by jaundice or a color change in the stool (often to a gray color).

8. Fatigue

Fatigue is a common complaint. Fatigue, however, that isn’t relieved by rest and is affecting your daily activities is not normal. Fatigue can be a sign of cancer and indicate tumor growth. It may occur early in cancers such as leukemia and colon and stomach cancers. Your doctor can help you determine the cause of severe fatigue.

9. Persistent Cough

Coughs are often caused by common ailments such as colds and allergies, but when a cough lasts for more than three or four weeks, you should see your doctor. A prolonged cough can be a sign of cancer as well as ailments such as chronic bronchitis or acid reflux—any of these conditions warrant medical care.

10. Difficulty Swallowing

Trouble swallowing can indicate esophageal cancer and other cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. So, if you notice that you’re having trouble swallowing certain foods, see your doctor.

11. Changes in the Skin

Skin cancer can be detected in changes to the skin. Changes that should be examined by your doctor include changes in moles (such as in color or size) and in skin pigmentation. You should also see your doctor if your skin suddenly bleeds or becomes scaly.

12. Unusual Bleeding

If you find blood in unusual places, such as in stool or urine, you should see your doctor, as this could be a sign of colon cancer. Coughing or spitting up blood is also a cause for concern.

13. Mouth Changes

People who smoke or chew tobacco should be aware of signs of leukoplakia, a precancerous condition that can progress to oral cancer. Signs of leukoplakia include white patches inside the mouth or white patches on the tongue and should be examined by a doctor. 

14. Urinary Problems

Even though urinary problems become more frequent with age, they can also be signs of cancer. Specifically, urinary problems include the urge to urinate more often, a sense of urgency to urinate, and a sensation that the bladder has not been completely emptied. Prostate cancer can cause these symptoms, so it’s important to see your doctor if you experience them and especially if they get worse.

15. Indigestion

Indigestion can be caused by eating certain foods, but may also be a sign of esophageal, throat, or stomach cancer. So if indigestion persists, visit your doctor.

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