The big 5 cancers in men
Posted on 9 May 2018
One in seven South African men will face cancer in their lifetime – but before you start getting your affairs in order, remember this: an active approach is the best way to fight the disease.
Sticking to regular check-ups, exercising as often as you can and watching what you put in your body are all key to keeping cancer at bay. Let’s take a closer look at the handful of cancers that affect men the most.
1. Prostate cancer
[Affects one in 18 men]
Men over the age of 65 and of African ancestry are most at risk of prostate cancer. All men over the age of 50 should be tested every two years, says Dr Owen Nosworthy, an oncologist at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre. Those with a family history of cancer should be tested annually after they turn 45.
A doctor can examine the prostate for abnormalities in a digital rectal exam, says Dr Nathan October, a urologist at Mediclinic Tzaneen, but there is an easier way: the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test will pick up hormones that indicate inflammation, via a finger prick or blood test.
Keep a cap on your intake of unhealthy fats – stick to fish and vegetables, and cut down on red meat and dairy.
2. Lung cancer
[Affects one in 76 men]
The disease is often “silent” in the early stages, and you may only notice symptoms – such as shortness of breath, uncontrolled coughing, irregular sputum and coughing up blood – once the cancer is advanced.
Lung cancer is a major risk for anyone who is older than 50, with a history of smoking or chronic obstructive airway disease (COPD). Speak to your doctor about your screening options, including low-dose CT scans.
Smoking is linked to more than 90% of lung cancer cases, says Dr Yael Mark, a radiation oncologist at the Sandton Oncology Centre. “It can’t be overstated how important it is to quit smoking and not be around cigarette smoke,” she says.
3. Colorectal cancer
[Affects one in 81 men]
Warning signs of this disease include blood in the stool and persistent abdominal pain – but many people who suffer from colorectal cancer show no symptoms, says Dr Nosworthy. Prolonged diarrhoea or constipation are reason enough to see your doctor.
Regular screening for anyone over 50 is crucial, urges Dr Nosworthy, and an annual check-up, usually by colonoscopy, is recommended once a decade for men over 50. Small blood particles in the faeces may be a warning sign, and a faecal occult blood test will check for these.
To reduce your risk, watch your weight, get regular exercise, limit your alcohol intake and stick to regular check-up appointments with your GP.
What is a colonoscopy?
A doctor will insert a long, thin, flexible tube, known as a colonoscope, up the rectum towards the large intestine. It is fitted with a tiny camera that picks up damage along the lining of the colon.
4. Bladder cancer
[Affects one in 147 men]
The majority of bladder cancer patients are white men older than 50. Some of the first signs of bladder cancer are blood in the urine, a change in urine colour, an inability to urinate or a burning sensation when urinating.
CT and MRI scans can pick up signs of cancer in the bladder. To confirm a diagnosis, a doctor can perform a cystoscopy, inserting a catheter fitted with a tiny camera into the urethra to examine the bladder lining.
Avoid exposure to dangerous chemicals, including smoke, says Dr October. Smoking doubles your chances of developing bladder cancer, as the body processes harmful chemicals in the smoke through urine, and these can damage the lining of your bladder.
5. Kaposi sarcoma
[Affects one in 315 men]
This skin cancer causes lesions to grow under the skin, in the lymph nodes, internal organs and mucous membranes lining the mouth, nose and throat. It often affects people with immune deficiencies, such as HIV or Aids.
There are no routine screening tests to catch Kaposi sarcoma in people who are not at increased risk, so self check-ups are essential: keep an eye on your skin, as the disease usually manifests in visible lesions. A biopsy of the affected area can determine whether the growth is cancerous. To protect your immune system, avoid risky sexual practices, and stay away from used intravenous needles.