Nagging back pain. Indigestion. Frequent urination. You may assume these are minor health issues that don’t need a doctor visit. But think again.
Cancer symptoms are often vague. In fact, prostate cancer–the most common cancer in men–has some of the least obvious symptoms.
“Men shouldn’t ignore their health,” says Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center. “It’s vital to stay informed, pay attention to changes in your body and report unusual symptoms to your doctor right away.”
Knowing what symptoms to look for can help your doctor find cancer early when it’s most treatable.
Bevers shares some of the most common cancer symptoms in men.
- Abnormal lump. Have you recently felt a mass or lump right below your skin? This may be a sign of cancer. Lumps normally show up in the breast, testicles, lymph nodes and soft tissues, like tendons and ligaments. Here’s what to do: Report it to your doctor immediately, especially if you just found it, or it has grown in size.
- Changes in your testicles. Have you noticed changes in the size of your testicles, like one or both have gotten bigger? Maybe you’ve found a lump, or your testicles feel swollen or extra heavy. Any of these signs should send you straight to your doctor. Testicular cancer is most common in young and middle-aged men.
- Changes in your restroom habits. Suddenly need to use the restroom all the time? Or have pain when you go? This may be a sign of bladder or prostate cancer. Other signs to look out for are blood in your urine or stool. Changes in your bowel habits, like constipation or diarrhea that won’t go away, matter too.
- Changes in your skin. If you work long hours outside or have a history of blistering sun burns, check your skin more closely. What you think are signs of hard work might actually be skin cancer. Look for unusual bleeding, scaling or sores that do not heal. Other signs include warts as well as moles and freckles that change in color, size or shape. Bottom line: If you’ve got a strange spot on your skin, call your dermatologist.
- Indigestion or trouble swallowing. A prolonged painful burning sensation in your throat or chest shouldn’t be ignored – even if you suspect it’s from eating spicy food. Don’t think that regular indigestion or trouble swallowing is a normal part of aging either. It can be a sign of esophageal, stomach or throat cancer.
- Persistent cough or hoarseness. Do you have a nagging cough? If it lasts more than three weeks, it’s a sign that something’s wrong. And whether you smoke or not, a cough that doesn’t go away can be a sign of lung cancer. Persistent hoarseness, wheezing, shortness of breath or coughing up blood are also signs to call your doctor right away.
- Changes in your mouth. If you smoke, chew, dip or spit tobacco, you need to pay close attention to changes inside your mouth. White patches inside your mouth or white patches on your tongue may be pre-cancers. Left untreated, these areas can turn into oral cancer. Sores, unexplained bleeding, numbness or tenderness in the area around your mouth – like your tongue, lips and cheeks – should tell you that it’s time for a check-up.
- Unexplained weight loss. Are you dropping pounds without changing your diet or exercise habits? Call your doctor – even if you think they’re pounds you need to lose. Losing ten or more pounds for no known reason can be a sign of pancreatic, stomach, esophageal or lung cancer.
- Constant fatigue. Are you too tired to play with your kids? Or hang out with the guys after work? Are you constantly tired no matter how much rest you get? Don’t brush it off. Constant fatigue can be a sign of leukemia as well as some colon and stomach cancers.
- Persistent pain. Nagging back pain, a headache that won’t go away, abdominal or stomach pains – your doctor needs to know. “No pain, no gain” doesn’t apply to cancer. And, persistent pain, no matter the location, can be the first sign that something’s wrong.
Remember, having one or more of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have cancer. But if they’re persistent, you need to go in for a checkup.
“See your doctor and get your cancer risk assessed,” Bevers says. This assessment can help you understand whether or not you’re more likely to get cancer. That way you can make better choices to keep your body healthy and cancer-free.