Top Cancer Symptoms Men Shouldn't Ignore

One in Two Men Will Get Cancer in Their Lifetime. Know the Symptoms.

Almost one in two men will develop cancer in their lifetimes (versus one in three women), yet we hear much more about cancer symptoms in women. In our society, it's sometimes common for men to "man it up" and ignore the symptoms of cancer they are also experiencing. While being a hero, at times, is refreshing in today's world, when it comes to cancer, it can backfire.

With most cancers, the earlier they are diagnosed the better the survival. And it's not just survival. The earlier a cancer is diagnosed, you can expect fewer treatments and resultant side effects.

What symptoms should men be watching for? Knowing about the top cancers which cause death in men is a start. Cancer statistics 2022:

  1. Lung cancer
  2. Prostate cancer
  3. Colorectal cancer
  4. Pancreatic cancer
  5. Liver and bile duct cancer
  6. Leukemia
  7. Esophageal cancer
  8. Urinary bladder cancer
  9. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  10. Kidney cancer

Let's look at the top cancer symptoms that men should never ignore.

Chronic Cough

Male doctor examining patient in hospital gown
Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Since lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men, we will start here.

The most common symptom of lung cancer in men is a chronic cough, often described as a cough that just won't go away. A cough is more likely to be related to lung cancer if you have a history of smoking or exposure to industrial substances such as radon, asbestos, or diesel fuel. That said, lung cancer can also occur in non-smokers and people who have not been exposed to these substances.

Other symptoms that suggest lung cancer may include:

  • Shortness of breath (it may be mild and only with activity)
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Coughing up blood

If you have a chronic cough or no other symptoms, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider.

If you smoked in the past, you might be eligible for CT lung cancer screening to detect cancer in the earliest, most curable stages of the disease. Ask your healthcare provider about screening if you are between the ages of 55 and 80, smoked at least 30 ​pack-years, or have smoked in the last 15 years.

Difficulty Urinating

Prostate cancer is the second most frequent cancer diagnosis made in men and the fifth leading cause of death worldwide. Pain or difficulty with urination is often a sign. This may include having a weak urine stream or urinating often at night. ​

There has been controversy over screening for prostate cancer in recent years because screening can lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment of clinically insignificant prostate cancers. The truth is, men still develop, and die from, prostate cancer.

Additional symptoms of prostate cancer include:

  • Urinary frequency
  • Urinary urgency
  • Urinating frequently at night
  • Hesitancy urinating
  • Reduced force of urine stream

Less common symptoms include:

  • Blood in the urine or semen
  • Sudden onset of erectile dysfunction
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Unexplained weight loss

Make sure you have a careful discussion with your healthcare provider about the screening and diagnosis and report any other symptoms which concern you.

Pelvic Pain

Pain in the pelvic region (the area between your belly button and thighs) can be a symptom of many things, including testicular cancer, prostate cancer, or colon cancer. The pain may be due to the tumor itself or the involvement of lymph nodes in the pelvis.

Any pain lasting more than a few days or that does not go away needs to be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

Bowel Changes

Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men. While experts recommend colonoscopy screening for everyone at age 50, men may develop the disease at a younger age or may not have undergone screening.

See your healthcare provider if you experience blood in your stools, constipation, diarrhea, gas, thinner stools, or just a general overall change in bowel habits. Everyone has bowel habits that differ. The most important finding is something that is a change for you personally.

Persistent stomach upset or pain may also be related to the fourth most common cause of cancer deaths in men, or the fifth, liver and bile duct cancer. Pancreatic cancer often begins with a deep belly ache and may come and go. With liver cancer, people may develop jaundice, a yellowish discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes, and excessive itching.

Blood in the Urine

Bladder cancer is the eighth most common cause of cancer-related deaths in men, and the first symptom is often hematuria (blood in the urine). There are certainly other causes of bloody urine (or even pink-tinged urine), but all should be checked out.

The most common causes are smoking and exposure to occupational chemicals, but as with other cancers, many people develop the disease despite having no obvious risk factors. Blood in the urine may also be a sign of kidney cancer, another top 10 cancer-killer for men.

Testicular Changes

A lump in the testicle, no matter what the size, can be a sign of testicular cancer. Men should examine their scrotum and testicles every month. This type of monthly exam is called a testicular self-exam.

Unintentional Weight Loss

Unintentional weight loss is a concerning symptom, not only for cancer but other medical conditions. With cancer, it may occur with blood-related cancers such as leukemia or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, or it may occur in the more advanced stages of solid tumors as well.

Unplanned weight loss is defined as the loss of 5 percent of body weight over a period of 6 to 12 months. For a 200 pound man, this would mean a loss of 10 or more pounds.

While unexpected weight loss may come as a nice surprise for some people, it's a good reason to see your healthcare provider.

Unexplained Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most commonly experienced cancer symptoms. It occurs often with blood-related cancers such as leukemia and is frequently found with solid tumors as well. 

Cancer fatigue is different than ordinary fatigue, or the tiredness you feel after a long day of working or a night of interrupted sleep. It's a type of fatigue that doesn't usually improve with a good night's rest or even a strong cup of coffee.

Fatigue can be insidious and worsen over time without people realizing what's happening. If you're feeling more fatigue than you did 6 months ago, or if you find that being tired is keeping you from your normal daily activities, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider.

Changes in the Breast

Male breast cancer is certainly not as common as breast cancer in women but it still does occur. Roughly 1 in 100 cases of breast cancer are found in men. Men who develop breast cancer are more likely to have a family history of the disease or carry a BRCA gene mutation.

Symptoms of breast cancer in men may include a lump, nipple discharge, skin dimpling (appearance like an orange peel), or a red and scaly rash on the breast. Men may also first notice a swelling in their armpits due to lymph node involvement.

Growth or Sore on the Penis

A sore or lesion on the penis may be a symptom of penile cancer. Penile cancer is often caused by the HPV virus, though by different strains than those which cause genital warts (another cause of lesions on the penis). Other signs and symptoms of penile cancer include:

  • Bleeding or discharge from the penis
  • Changes in skin color on the penis
  • Rash or bumps under the foreskin
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the groin

If you notice any abnormalities in your male genitals, make sure to see your healthcare provider.

Rectal Bleeding

Bleeding from the rectum or blood in the stool can be an alarming symptom indicating a simple common diagnosis such as hemorrhoids or a more serious diagnosis such as colorectal cancer. A hemorrhoid is a blood vessel that has become swollen around the anus and bleeds bright red blood.

Bleeding in the digestive tract will appear much darker in color and could be a sign of colon cancer. See your healthcare provider immediately for concerns related to blood in your stools.

Summary

It's important for men to know about abnormal symptoms that may indicate a serious cancer diagnosis to try for early detection and treatment of cancers. Survival of cancer frequently depends on early diagnosis. While many of the symptoms discussed are worrisome, they could also be a benign condition.

A Word from Verywell

We discussed some of the more common symptoms of cancer in men, but just about any symptom might be a warning sign. Pain and other symptoms are our body's way of telling us something isn't right. If you notice a nagging discomfort, or feel something just isn't right, trust your instinct.

See your healthcare provider. If you aren't getting answers and are still concerned, seek out another opinion. Survival rates from cancer are improving; part of that has been because people are becoming advocates for their health and asking questions. You live in your body 24/7. Trust what it's telling you. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is male pelvic cancer curable?

    Prostate cancer has a 99% survival rate for men five years from initial diagnosis and can be treated with various approaches including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or other indicated treatments.

  • Is pelvic cancer painful?

    Pelvic cancer can cause different kinds of pain depending on the type and severity of pelvic cancer. Pain can occur with excessive inflammation or swelling, pressure on nerves, muscle spasms, chemical irritation, or pressure from tumors on surrounding structures.

  • Can fever be a symptom of cancer?

    Yes, a fever is the body's response to an infection and can be a symptom of cancer in combination with other symptoms related to specific cancer.

17 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • American Cancer Society. Facts and Figures.

  • Kasper, Dennis L.., Anthony S. Fauci, and Stephen L.. Hauser. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. New York: Mc Graw Hill education.

By Blyss Splane
Blyss Splane is a certified operating room nurse working as a freelance content writer and former travel nurse. She works as a freelance content writer for healthcare blogs when she's not spending time with her husband and dog.

Originally written by Lisa Fayed