You eat pretty well (some days) and get regular exercise (most days). But if you’re like a lot of men, a trip to the doctor isn’t on your to-do list. That can be bad if it means you brush off early signs of cancer.
One of the best ways to fight the disease is to catch it in the early stages, when it’s more treatable. The problem is that the warning signs for many kinds of cancer can seem pretty mild.
Take a look at these 15 signs and symptoms. Some are linked more strongly to cancer than others, but all are worth knowing about — and even talking over with your doctor.
1. Problems when you pee
Many men have some problems peeing as they get older, like:
- A need to pee more often, especially at night
- Dribbling, leaking, or an urgent need to go
- Trouble starting to pee, or a weak stream
- A burning sensation when they pee
An enlarged prostate gland usually causes these symptoms, but so can prostate cancer. See your doctor to check on the cause of the problem. They’ll give you an exam to look for an enlarged prostate, and they may talk to you about a blood test (called a PSA test) for prostate cancer.
2. Changes in your testicles
“If you notice a lump, heaviness, or any other change in your testicle, never delay having it looked at,” says Herbert Lepor, MD, urology chairman at New York University Langone Medical Center. “Unlike prostate cancer, which grows slowly, testicular cancer can take off overnight.” Your doctor will look for any problems with a physical exam, blood tests, and an ultrasound of your scrotum.
3. Blood in your pee or stool
These can be among the first signs of cancer of the bladder, kidneys, or colon. It’s a good idea to see your doctor for any bleeding that’s not normal, even if you don’t have other symptoms, Lepor says. Although you’re more likely to have a problem that’s not cancer, like hemorrhoids or a urinary infection, it’s important to find and treat the cause.
4. Skin changes
When you notice a change in the size, shape, or color of a mole or other spot on your skin, see your doctor as soon as you can. Spots that are new or look different are top signs of skin cancer. You’ll need an exam and perhaps a biopsy, which means doctors remove a small piece of tissue for testing. With skin cancer, you don’t want to wait, says Marleen Meyers, MD, an oncologist at NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center.
5. Changes in lymph nodes
Tenderness of swelling in your lymph nodes, the small bean-shaped glands found in your neck, armpits, and other places, often signal that something’s going on in your body. Usually, it means your immune system is fighting a sore throat or cold, but certain cancers can also trigger the changes. Have your doctor check any swelling or tenderness that doesn’t get better in 2 to 4 weeks, Meyers says.
6. Trouble swallowing
Some people have trouble swallowing from time to time. But if your problems don’t go away and you’re also losing weight or vomiting, your doctor may want to check you for throat or stomach cancer. They’ll start with a throat exam and barium X-ray. During a barium test, you drink a special liquid that makes your throat stand out on the X-ray.
You can take care of most cases of heartburn with changes to your diet, drinking habits, and stress levels. If that doesn’t help, ask your doctor to look into your symptoms. Heartburn that doesn’t go away or gets worse could mean stomach or throat cancer. Heartburn can also lead to a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which occurs when stomach acid damages the lining of esophagus. While it is rare, Barrett’s can make you more susceptible to developing throat cancer.
8. Mouth changes
If you smoke or chew tobacco, you have a higher risk of mouth cancer. Keep an eye out for white, red, gray or yellow patches inside your mouth or on your lips. You could also develop a canker sore that looks like an ulcer with a crater in it. Talk to your doctor or dentist about tests and treatments.
9. Weight loss without trying
Pants fitting a little looser? If you haven’t changed your diet or exercise habits, it could mean that stress or a thyroid problem is taking a toll. But losing 10 pounds or more without trying isn’t normal. Although most unintended weight loss is not cancer, it’s one of the signs of cancer of the pancreas, stomach, or lungs. Your doctor can find out more with blood tests and tools that make detailed pictures of the inside of your body, like a CT or PET scan.
A fever is usually not a bad thing — it means your body is fighting an infection. But one that won’t go away and doesn’t have an explanation could signal leukemia or another blood cancer. Your doctor should take your medical history and give you a physical exam to check on the cause.
11. Breast changes
In 2017 alone, 2,470 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer. “Men tend to ignore breast lumps because breast cancer isn’t on their radar,” Meyers says, warning that in men those cancers are also, “diagnosed much later.” Don’t take any chances. If you find a lump, tell your doctor and have it checked. Early detection is key to successful treatment.
Many types of cancer cause a bone-deep tiredness that never gets better, no matter how much rest you get. It’s different from the exhaustion you feel after a hectic week or a lot of activity. If fatigue is affecting your daily life, talk to your doctor. They can help you find the cause and let you know if there are ways to treat it.
In nonsmokers, a nagging cough is usually not cancer. Most go away after 3 to 4 weeks. If yours doesn’t, and you’re short of breath or cough up blood, don’t delay a visit to your doctor, especially if you smoke. A cough is the most common sign of lung cancer. Your doctor can test mucus from your lungs to see if you have an infection. They may also give you a chest X-ray to check for another problem.
Cancer doesn’t cause most aches and pains, but if you’re hurting for more than a month, don’t just grin and bear it. Ongoing pain can be a signal of many types of cancer, including bone or brain cancer, especially those that have spread, Lepor says.
15. Belly pain and depression
It’s rare, but depression along with stomach pain can be a sign of cancer of the pancreas. Should you worry? Not unless this cancer runs in your family, Meyers says. Then you need to see your doctor.