Feature Archive

15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore

Men, heed these possible clues and find cancer early, when it's more treatable.

By Kathleen Doheny
WebMD Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Some men are notorious foot-draggers, especially when it comes to scheduling doctor visits. That's unfortunate. Routine preventive care can find cancer in men and other diseases in the early stages, when there are more options for treatment and better chances of a cure. Some men, though, would never go to the doctor except for the women in their life. According to Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer for the national office of the American Cancer Society, women are often the ones who push men to get screened for cancer.

Experts say that men could benefit greatly by being alert to certain cancer symptoms that indicate a trip to the doctor's office sooner rather than later. Some of those cancer symptoms in men are specific. They involve certain body parts and may even point directly to the possibility of cancer. Other symptoms are more vague. For instance, pain that affects many body parts could have dozens of explanations and may not be cancer. But that doesn't mean you can rule out cancer without seeing a doctor.

Cancer Symptom in Men No. 1: Breast Mass

If you're like most men, you've probably never considered the possibility of having breast cancer. Although it's not common, it is possible. "Any new mass in the breast area of a man needs to be checked out by a physician," Lichtenfeld says.

In addition, the American Cancer Society identifies several other worrisome signs involving the breast that men as well as women should take note of. They include:

  • Skin dimpling or puckering


  • Nipple retraction


  • Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin


  • Nipple discharge

When you consult your physician about any of these signs, expect him to take a careful history and do a physical exam. Then, depending on the findings, the doctor may order a mammogram, a biopsy, or other tests.

Cancer Symptom in Men No. 2: Pain

As they age, people often complain of more aches and pains. But pain, as vague as it may be, can be an early symptom of some cancers although most pain complaints are not from cancer.

Any pain that persists, according to the American Cancer Society, should be checked out by your physician. The doctor can take a careful history, get more details, and then decide whether further testing is necessary, and if so what kind. If it's not cancer, you will still benefit from the visit to the office. That's because the doctor can work with you to find out what's causing the pain and help you know what to do about it.

Cancer Symptom in Men No. 3: Changes in the Testicles

Testicular cancer occurs most often in men aged 20 to 39. The American Cancer Society recommends that men get a testicular exam by a doctor as part of a routine cancer-related checkup. And some doctors suggest a monthly self-exam.

Yu tells WebMD that being aware of troublesome testicular symptoms between exams is wise. "Any change in the size of the testicles, such as growth or shrinkage," Yu says, "should be a concern." In addition, swelling or a lump should not be ignored. Nor should a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum. Some testicular cancers occur very quickly. So early detection is especially crucial. Yu recalls a young man who waited until his testicle was the size of a grapefruit before coming in for help. "If you feel a hard lump of coal [in your testicle], get it checked right away," Yu says.

Your doctor will do a testicular exam and an overall assessment of your health. If cancer is suspected, blood tests may be ordered. You may undergo an ultrasound examination of your scrotum. Your doctor may also decide to do a biopsy, taking a tiny sample of testicular tissue to examine it for cancer.

Cancer Symptom in Men No. 4: Changes in the Lymph Nodes

If you notice a lump or swelling in the lymph nodes under your armpit or in your neck -- or anywhere else -- it could be a reason for concern, says Hannah Linden, MD. Linden is a medical oncologist and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She is also a joint associate member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Wash. "If you have a lymph node that gets progressively larger, and it's been longer than a month, see a doctor," she says.



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