We all understand the importance of health as a major driving force towards a happy and fulfilling life. Where the media and internet is flooded with news, daily tips and advice centered around womens’ health in general, here is a something for the men who are just as concerned regarding their health. Mostly focused around stressful and hectic work routines, men too ignore their health as much as women do. The anatomy and physiology of males has been designed indeed stronger in some ways than women, but it all boils down to taking care of oneself that ensures good long term health.
Cancer is a disease where uncontrolled growth of cells is capable of creating havoc and interfering with the normal functions of body. Cancer often shows up as signs and symptoms which can be easily passed off for presenting features of other ailments. Thus, a good sense of differentiating the normal from abnormal is essential, not only for doctors, but for everyone.
Men are at high risk for developing some forms of cancer. Some pathologies have a gender specific predisposition. For example, more men are at risk of specific cancers like those affecting the prostate, lungs, colon & rectum, liver, mouth and throat.
So here are a few symptoms which should be taken seriously to prevent any serious complications later on:
Difficulty in urination
It is a very common phenomenon in elderly men to face some problems in urinating properly. Some males complain of frequent urination, whereas some complain of inability too urinate at all, while some have to suffer from pain during the process.
All the above complaints can be mostly attributed to one common cause – the prostate gland. This gland similar to a walnut in shape is positioned just between the bladder and penis.
As men age, their prostate gland tends to enlarge in a benign manner or because of infections. This enlargement is responsible for different complaints related to ‘pee-trouble.’
Prostate cancer is among the most common causes of cancer in men, especially the ones who are crossing their 40s and 50s. This cancer is mostly asymptomatic and can show up with symptoms similar to prostatitis and Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH).
PSA, or prostate specific antigen is a special indicator produced by the prostate gland in very minute amounts. An elevation in PSA levels indicates that something is amiss. However, PSA levels are not and should never be taken as the sole indicators of prostate cancer since it can be raised in other pathologies of the prostate gland as well. Ultrasound and a thorough digital rectal exam (DRE) are the two best methods to confirm any suspicion of a cancerous prostate gland.
Unexplained loss in weight
Weight loss in cancer is a very subjective and vague symptom. When the body is troubled with cancer, it affects body weight in the following ways:
- A set of chemicals produced by the body known as cytokines are involved in fighting with cancer. Apart from the self-defense part, they are also responsible for the loss in weight and muscle weakness.
- Cancer can considerably weaken the body because of which muscle wasting is a common phenomenon. Combined with loss of appetite, a decrease in physical activity can bring about weight loss.
- The body’s immune system and metabolism are often severely affected which again affects appetite and increases the removal of nutrition from the body.
So if you suspect such an unexplained loss in weight without any apparent change in diet and exercise routines, do share your concerns with the doctor.
Abnormal bowel problems
Bowel cancer is another commonly occurring cancer, where men are more commonly affected than women. Bowel habits can vary from constipation to loose motions, all dependent on the cause affecting them. Sometimes habits like drinking less water and eating less fiber, chronic stress or infections can make the bowels more prone to trouble.
Irritable bowel disease and other malabsorption problems can trouble he gut and hamper its ability to perform normally.
Blood in the stools along with fatigue, unexplained weight loss and abdominal pain are common symptoms of a colo-rectal cancer. But these symptoms should be carefully cross matched with lab reports and imaging studies to get an accurate diagnosis.
Lumps in the breast(s)
If you think breast problems are just restricted to the ladies, think again. Breast cancer is a serious issue in men just as much it is in women, it’s just that men tend to ignore it till it reaches a stage when a lump in the chest area hurts really bad or till the nipple begins to discharge contents.
Both males and females have similar types of breast tissue. However, when one reaches puberty, only girls are able to see the full development of their mammary glands and not boys. Another trouble here is that because male breasts are so much tightly adhered to their chests and firm in nature, it becomes tough for the doctor to detect them at an early stage unlike in women. Also, breast cancer in males is seen more commonly in males aging 35 and above. This risk keeps on increasing as men age. It is prudent to understand that ignorance here may cost quite a lot.
White patches inside the oral cavity
The oral cavity is a unique indicator of the overall health of an individual. It mirrors the disturbances going inside the body in its own unique ways. The epithelium inside the mouth is particularly sensitive to habits such as tobacco chewing and smoking, both of which are contributory to the incidence & prevalence of oral cancer in males. Smoking tobacco or chewing it releases nicotine which forms complex compounds inside the mouth in the regions of tongue, cheeks & the vestibule.
These compounds interact with the epithelium and begin with the creation of whitish patches inside known as tobacco-pouch keratosis. If not taken seriously, this can progress to the formation of a rugged white patch inside the mouth known as leukoplakia. Leukoplakia is a very serious pre-cancerous condition which should be treated promptly.
Similarly, chewers of areca nut are responsible for another pre-cancerous condition known as oral sub-mucus fibrosis (OSMF). This manifests as formation of thick fibrous bands along the cheeks and ultimately limit the extent of mouth opening. Along with this, they also cause dryness and a burning sensation in the mouth.
Oral carcinomas can spread pretty rapidly and invade the nearby cervical group of lymph nodes. If not taken seriously, the cancers can destroy the jaw bones in a pretty serious manner.
Breathlessness & Persistent Cough
Some cancers do not show up in their early stages and lung cancer is one of them. If you feel that your cough is extending beyond 2-3 weeks, this is certainly a cause of worry. These symptoms are also seen in obstructive lung diseases like COPD, bronchitis, emphysema and infections like tuberculosis. A definitive diagnosis by a respiratory medicine expert can help to differentiate between cancerous and non-cancerous lesions.
Other symptoms like difficulty in swallowing properly, feeling breathless and tired without any apparent explanation can also be suspected as a type of lung cancer. Coughing up blood is indeed not a very good sign, though this needs to be further investigated using the help of lab tests to find out the exact cause. Pain in the shoulders and chest are also some less common indicators of lung cancer.
To be able to understand what is abnormal, it is essential to know what is normal. Like there are tips for women to conduct a self-breast examination, similar awareness is essential for men to know their private parts well. Lumps in testicles are present mostly because of non-cancerous reasons like hydrocele, varicocele, epididymal cysts, etc. These lumps can sometimes be accompanied with mild pain, itchy sensation and painful urination, but these symptoms necessarily do not indicate cancer.
Testicular cancer has the following features:
- Often seen in males in the age group 25-30 years
- An irregular lump along the sides of the testicle
- Fluid collection in the scrotum
- A painful feeling in abdomen, back or the groin area
- A noticeable decrease in size of one or both testicles
Upon suspicion regarding even a single one of the above points, a prompt visit to the urologist can save a lot of valuable time or effort. Testicular cancer can be easily diagnosed with the help of imaging studies like ultrasound, CT scan, MRI and lab tests like serum tumor markers and tissue biopsy may help.
Changes in Skin
Moles are harmless little entities on the skin which look like tiny to medium sized dots. Moles are nothing but a dense collection of melanocytes in a small spot. Similarly, the skin may show different types of outgrowths which may be formed as a result of too much exposure to sun, repeated trauma or unknown reasons. But any changes in its color, consistency, size & shape of skin entities should be immediately notified to the doctor. Many skin lesions show up in a precancerous form, like actinic cheilitis (farmer’s lip), actinic keratosis (solar keratosis) and cutaneous horns. Precancerous lesions though not cancerous actually, have the potential to become a cancer if not recognized and treated at the right time.
The mnemonic ABCDE can prove to be very helpful to differentiate normal skin entities from abnormal where,
- A – Asymmetry (irregular in shape & size)
- B – Borders of the lesion (blurred and irregular borders spell trouble)
- C – Color (multiple or changing shades of lesion)
- D – Diameter (increasing in size)
- E – Evolving (from normal to raised, crusty, itchy or bleeding)
Enlargement of lymph nodes
These tiny structures form an important part of the body’s immune system. Lymph nodes are the place of origin of immune cells. A fluid called lymph flows through the lymph nodes via lymphatic circulation and helps the body to filter out several harmful toxins and bacteria. In the event of any untoward invasion inside the body such as an infection, lymph nodes in that region tend to swell up.
Under normal circumstances, swollen lymph nodes are not much of a hassle. They are indicators of infection of bacterial or viral origin or chronic inflammations like arthritis.
But even cancer cells have the ability to traverse through lymphatic circulation because of which lymph nodes become swollen and if undetected, lead to a more hard consistency and a rather fixed attachment to the underlying skin. Apart from this, if you suspect that swollen lymph nodes are persisting for as much as 1-2 weeks, it is best to consult a doctor immediately. Cancers of the breast, oral cavity, lungs, etc. can spread to regional lymph nodes if they assume a malignant nature.
Your doctor may advise a lymph node biopsy to study the tissue sample under a microscope for confirmatory diagnosis. A CT or MRI scan may also be done to check the extent of spread of cancer.
Difficulty in swallowing can be a result of several things such as sore throat, allergies, infections, muscle strain, gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), HIV associated pathologies, etc.
However, cancers of the throat, voice box and stomach also present themselves in a similar manner. This can result in hoarseness of voice as a starting symptom followed by dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing), weight loss and swellings in the oro-facial region.
Fever is not an early sign of cancer. Development of fever happens in later stages of cancer which indicates that it has began to affect the immune system, hence eliciting such a response. Fever lasts for different durations for different ailments. While most of the fevers last barely for a few days, cancerous diseases of the blood like leukemia, lymphoma and other blood cancers can cause a fever which can last over several weeks. So if you think that the fever is persisting longer than it should, it’s good to consult a doctor as soon as possible.
Cancer is a disease which can have ‘n’ number of causes. But most of its risk factors are highly preventable and can be modified with small steps towards a healthy lifestyle. Timely recognition of any trouble can pay huge dividends in the long run.
You can find the list of cities in India that provide prostate cancer surgery along with their respective prices here