Women are more inclined to talk openly about their health and the health of their families, offering advice about diet, workouts and other wellness related matters that men generally don’t discuss socially. Is this why males in most parts of the world tend to be in worse health than females are? Studies show that men are nearly twice as likely as women to die from the types of cancers that affect both sexes; they’re also more than 50 percent more likely to develop those cancers, and they have poorer survival rates. It’s no surprise, really, as men tend to follow less healthy lifestyles; they’re more likely to smoke, and more men than women drink to excess, according to research.
What are the most commonly diagnosed cancers in men, and which signs and risk factors shouldn’t be ignored?
#1 Lung Cancer
Though non-smokers can develop lung cancer, tobacco smoke is by far the most important risk factor for lung cancer, says DR LIM HONG LIANG, Senior Consultant in Medical Oncology at Parkway Cancer Centre (PCC). “More than 85 percent of all lung cancers worldwide are attributable to cigarette smoking. Both the prevention of smoking uptake and the cessation of smoking are crucial in reducing lung cancer incidence and death,” he says.
The early stages of lung cancer don’t usually cause symptoms, but, as the cancer grows, common symptoms may include a worsening cough that doesn’t go away, breathing difficulties such as shortness of breath, constant chest pain, coughing up blood, a hoarse voice, lethargy and frequent lung infections such as pneumonia. It’s important to talk to your doctor about your own risk factors and whether or not you should be screened for lung cancer.
#2 Prostate Cancer
Though prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among males, it’s typically slow-growing, which means most men diagnosed with it do not die from it; in fact, according to the American Cancer Society, it has the best survival rate among all cancers – which is why screening for this type of cancer has become so contentious. Some people feel that early detection outweighs any discomfort and stress involved with screening – a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is the most common initial examination – while others argue that testing for prostate cancer does more harm than good, since this type of cancer is often not life threatening; for example, men may go through unnecessary followup tests, biopsies and other treatments, and could experience anxiety over a false positive PSA test. Here in Singapore, the Ministry of Health say there’s insufficient data to support prostate cancer screening, says DR ZEE YING KIAT, Senior Consultant in Medical Oncology at PCC. Therefore, he says doctors may adopt a shared approach to decision-making for patients who express interest in prostate cancer screening.
“Men who are between 50 and 75 years old may be offered screening for prostate cancer after discussing both the potential benefits and risks associated with the screening, whereas men who may be at higher risk, such as those with strong family histories of prostate cancer, for example, may be offered screenings at an earlier age,” he explains.
Ultimately, whether or not to screen for prostate cancer is a personal decision that should be discussed with a healthcare professional. And, it’s important to consider the risk factors, including a family history of prostate cancer and age; the older a man is, the higher his risk is of developing prostate cancer. AfricanAmerican males are also at higher risk of developing the disease, as are people who are obese, eat excessive amounts of meat or food high in animal fat, and men who began having sex at an early age, have a history of sexually-transmitted diseases or multiple sexual partners.
“While there is no proven prostate cancer prevention strategy, men might possibly reduce their risk of prostate cancer by making healthy dietary and lifestyle choices. These include eating a wide variety of vegetables and fruits each day, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight,” says Dr Zee.
Advanced stage symptoms to look out for include weight loss, pelvic pain, back or hip pain and urinary difficulties such as burning or pain during urination, the inability to urinate or blood in the urine.
#3 Colorectal Cancer
Also known as colon cancer or bowel cancer, this disease originates from the tissues of the colon (the longest part of the large intestine) or rectum. While the exact causes of colorectal cancer are unknown, people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop it. Studies have shown that someone is more at risk if he or she smokes, consumes a diet high in fat but low in fruits and vegetables, is above 50 years old (more than 90 percent of people with colorectal cancer are diagnosed after age 50 or older), has colorectal polyps (growths on the inner wall of the colon or rectum), a personal or family history of colorectal cancer, or a condition that causes inflammation of the colon such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
Luckily, colon cancer is highly treatable if detected in its early stages, and preventable with screening options like colonoscopy.
“Go for screening when you are 50 years old. It could save your life!” advises DR FOO KIAN FONG, Senior Consultant in Medical Oncology at PCC. It’s also vital to look out for warning signs such as changes in bowel habits, feeling that your bowels do not empty completely, blood in your stool, feeling that your stool is narrower than usual, unintentional weight loss, unexplained and prolonged feeling of lethargy, nausea and vomiting.
#4 Stomach Cancer
Much like colorectal cancer, stomach cancer (also known as gastric cancer) is curable – but only when discovered early via endoscopic screening. It begins when cancer cells start growing in the inner lining of the stomach, and usually develops slowly over many years.
“The good news is that the incidence of gastric cancer has declined rapidly over the last few decades. While the reason for this is incompletely understood, the widespread use of refrigeration rather than food preservation by salting, smoking or pickling is believed to play an important role. Refrigeration reduces bacterial and fungal contamination and also allows for fresh foods and vegetables to be readily available to people,” says DR RICHARD QUEK, Senior Consultant in Medical Oncology at PCC. “To reduce the risk of stomach cancer, it’s best to avoid a diet high in preserved foods; eat healthy and eat fresh. Consume a diet high in fruits and vegetables, and avoid tobacco use.”
#5 Liver Cancer
Worldwide, liver cancer – where malignant cells arise from the tissues in the liver – is twice as common in men compared with women, according to Globocan (International Agency for Research on Cancer) 2018.
There are three main risk factors for developing the most common primary liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC): chronic hepatitis B infection, chronic hepatitis C infection and excessive alcohol consumption. The risk of an individual with chronic hepatitis B infection developing HCC is hundredfold that of an uninfected individual, according to PCC. Therefore, those with chronic hepatitis B infection and liver scarring (cirrhosis) due to hepatitis C or other causes are at increased risk and should be screened for liver cancer via blood tests or ultrasound scans of the liver.
“Besides screening, if you are a Hepatitis B carrier, leading a healthy lifestyle could help in prevention of liver cancer,” adds Dr Foo.
The Bottom Line
Many of these cancers can be treated if found early, so it’s crucial to be aware of the symptoms, remain observant and go for the necessary screenings, which can be discussed with your doctor. Any new symptoms like a worsening cough, pain or change in appetite or bowel habits, for example, should be looked at by a healthcare professional. Even if a man doesn’t want to discuss his health or symptoms with his pals over a pint, discussing it with a doctor is really what matters.
Parkway Cancer Centre
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This article first appeared in the November 2018 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!