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Doctor, Doctor: Focus on men and cancer risk

Network - Fall 2013


John Papadopoulos, M.D.

One in two men will be diagnosed with cancer during his lifetime. And one in six will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in American men.

We asked John Papadopoulos, M.D., about men’s cancer risks. An assistant professor of Urology, Papadopoulos works at the MD Anderson Regional Care Center in Katy. This article originally appeared in MD Anderson’s Cancerwise.

Are there steps men can take to help avoid getting cancer?

Yes. Here are some ways they can protect themselves: 

  • Avoid tobacco — even celebratory cigars — and limit alcohol to no more than two drinks per day. 
  • Maintain a healthy weight and stay physically active each day.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. Make fruits and vegetables the biggest part of every meal and go easy on the meat. Limit the amount of red meat you eat to 18 oz. a week and avoid processed meats like hot dogs and pepperoni. 
  • Wear sunscreen and practice sun safety.
  • See a doctor regularly and get the screening exams you need. If you do have a chronic disease like cancer, diabetes or heart disease, the earlier we catch it, the easier it will be to treat.

Though doing these things might not ensure you won’t get cancer, a healthy lifestyle puts you in fighting shape if you do.

What cancer screening exams do men need? And when should most men start screening?

Most men need both a prostate exam (digital rectal exam and PSA test) and a colonoscopy starting at age 50. This is the appropriate age for screening if you don’t have a family history (father, son, brother) of prostate or colon cancer and you’re not African American, which can make you more likely to develop these cancers.

If you’re at average risk for colon cancer, you’ll need a colonoscopy every 10 years after that. If you have a family or personal history, you should get a colonoscopy at age 40.

Most men should be screened for prostate cancer every year starting at age 50. If you’re African American or have a family history (brother, son, father) of prostate cancer, talk to your doctor about getting a digital rectal exam and PSA test to screen for prostate cancer every year starting at age 45.

Also, men ages 20 and older should practice testicular and skin awareness. Become familiar with your skin and testicles and report any changes to your doctor right away.

How does a family history of cancer affect a man’s chances of developing cancer?

For men, colon, prostate and pancreatic cancers can run in the family. Though it’s rare, male breast cancer can also run in the family.

You’re at greater risk for an inherited cancer if one or more close blood relatives were diagnosed before age 50 or if they’ve had two or more different cancers. You’re also at increased risk if close blood relatives had the same type of cancer, a rare cancer or a BRCA mutation.

Why are some groups advising men not to get PSA testing?

Not all prostate cancer is deadly. Research has shown that widespread PSA screening for prostate cancer may lead to detection of non-lethal forms of the disease, which can cause worry and lead to aggressive and unnecessary treatment.

Before getting PSA testing, men should talk to their doctors about the risks and benefits. And if screening shows you have prostate cancer, talk to your doctor about whether it’s appropriate to treat it. Only aggressive forms of prostate cancer
should be treated.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center