Reducing the risk for urologic cancers in men
Posted on 2 June 2023
Besides being biologically more prone to urologic cancers, men who avoid regular check-ups and lead an unhealthy lifestyle increase their risk of these cancers. Being proactive about your health means improved treatment outcomes.
What are urologic cancers?
Urologic cancers cover cancer of the bladder, kidney, penis, prostate, and testicles. Due to biology, men are naturally at greater risk of some of these cancers, but lifestyle factors also increase their vulnerability, especially as they get older.
“Prostate cancer (PCa) is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in men,” says Dr Alexander Jacek Szpytko, a urologist at Mediclinic Stellenbosch. “The incidence of PCa increases with age, where up to 80% of males over the age of 80 may be affected, but this also depends on geography. In addition, genetics can play a role.”
Age also affects risk for penis cancer, which is more prevalent in Africa than in industrialised countries. Testicular cancer is more uncommon and affects younger men, generally between the ages of 20–40. Here self-examination is key, because it allows for earlier detection and improved outcomes when you do undergo treatment, Dr Szpytko says.
Lifestyle factors that increase urologic cancer risk
Lifestyle is a significant factor in the development of urologic cancers. Smoking, for example, plays a role in the development of prostate, penis and bladder cancer – the latter already more prominent among men. To add to their risk for urologic cancers, South African men in general reportedly smoke up to four times as much as their female counterparts.
Other lifestyle factors also increase your risk of developing prostate cancer. “Obesity, increased alcohol use, and complete abstinence from alcohol have been shown to increase the risk of developing more aggressive prostate cancer,” Dr Szpytko says. Multiple sexual partners, HPV infection and a lack of penile hygiene are also among the risk factors for penis cancer.
Limit your urologic cancer risk
Dr Szpytko emphasises the importance of a balanced lifestyle. “All aspects of life should be taken in moderation, including what you eat and drink, and the activities in which you partake,” he says. “Discipline about looking after your health and being vigilant about identifying any worrying signs is key.” Vigilance is particularly important as you age, he adds. “As you get older, your risk for many medical conditions becomes higher, so take extra care to get your routine check-ups, limit stress and partake in a healthier lifestyle.”
Early detection saves lives
Men are often slack about getting regular check-ups, but going to the doctor could potentially be lifesaving – and limit post-treatment complications. “In the lower socio-economic groups and older generation of patients, delaying check-ups seems to be a trend,” agrees Dr Szpytko. What’s more, with certain urologic cancers, particularly penis cancer, men may also fear being stigmatised because of having a genital abnormality.
“Men afflicted with lesions associated with penis cancer are often ashamed of these changes,” he says. “Many believe they will resolve, which allows progression and growth of the cancer.” Yet early treatment is minimally invasive and helps retain sexual and urinary function. Delayed diagnosis, on the other hand, can lead to physical and psychological damage.
That’s why it’s important to be vigilant about the significant risk for prostate cancer, he says. “An informed patient-based approach to prostate cancer screening is recommended. This involves screening patients with a first-degree family history of prostate and/or breast cancer and those of African descent from the age of 40, all other males from the age of 45, and a work-up on all patients with a history of urinary symptoms.”
Don’t shy away from mentioning something that is worrying you to a doctor, Dr Szpytko adds, as this helps with early detection.