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When Men Ask, Could it be Cancer?

"Are you man enough to face these ignored cancer symptoms?"
By: Ivan Olegario, MD, MDevComWhen Men Ask, Could it be Cancer?

Ever since its emergence as a major health problem, cancer has brought fear to the public. A diagnosis of cancer is still considered a death sentence, despite the development of many effective treatments, and the fact that more people actually die from heart disease than cancer.

Now, this piece is about cancer symptoms men ignore. I will not delve into how men ignore cancer symptoms because of fear or denial or other emotional defenses. Instead, I will give the benefit of the doubt, and assume that cancer symptoms are ignored because of lack of knowledge that these symptoms can be due to cancer.

Ignored symptom #1: Changes in urination

Changes in urination, such as a slow or weak urine stream, difficulty starting to urinate, and frequent urination, especially at night, are the first symptoms of prostate cancer. However, these symptoms only occur late in the disease.

Could it be something else? Changes in urination could also be symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia, where your prostate enlarges and compresses the urethra. Frequent urination could also be due to diabetes or a urinary tract infection.

What can the doctor do for me? He can perform tests that can tell if your symptoms are because of cancer or a benign enlargement or some other disease. He can also prescribe medications that can relieve some of these symptoms and make urination a more pleasant experience for you.

Ignored symptom #2: Prolonged cough

A cough that lasts for more than 2 to 3 weeks is actually a very common symptom, and other more common diseases also cause this. However, this is also the most common symptom of lung cancer. The cough of lung cancer may or may not be accompanied by blood in the sputum.

Could it be something else? Prolonged cough is also caused by many diseases, such as asthma, allergies, acid reflux, tuberculosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or both).

What can the doctor do for me? Simple tests such as a chest x-ray can be performed to look for alternative causes of prolonged cough. Medications can also be given to relieve symptoms. This is called a therapeutic trial, which can be helpful in asthma, allergies, and acid reflux.

Ignored symptom #3: Tiredness

Like prolonged cough, tiredness can be caused by many, many diseases. But I would like to emphasize this here because tiredness, regardless of cause, is easily ignored by men. It this fast-paced world with millions of responsibilities, many men simply will not allow themselves to acknowledge that they feel tired. But note that almost all of the cancers can cause tiredness, and so do many diseases of the heart, lung, blood, and endocrine system.

Could it be something else? If tiredness is your only symptoms, then the chances of it being cancer is a little less than the chances that it could be something else.

What can the doctor do for me? Generally, a general check-up that includes a careful history, physical examination, and some basic tests can determine if there are diseases present that could be causing tiredness. Other causes of tiredness, such as depression, hormonal imbalances, stress, or sleep apnea, may present with normal findings on check-up. In these cases, a consultation with a specialist should be discussed with your physician.

Ignored symptom #4: Constipation or diarrhea

Constipation and diarrhea are commonly encountered bowel movement changes. They are also possible signs of cancer in the colon or rectum. Other common bowel symptoms of colorectal cancer are blood in the stools and abdominal discomfort.

Could it be something else? The truth is that constipation and diarrhea can be caused by very common conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, infections of the gut, poor eating habits, or stress.

What can the doctor do for me? Aside from the usual tests, such as digital rectal examination and stool examination, there are many other tests that can detect colon cancer and other causes of constipation of diarrhea that the former tests may not pick up.

Ignored symptom #5: Weight loss without really trying

Men, in general, have a tendency to gain some weight as they grow older, mostly because of a slower metabolism. This results in the spare tire around the midsection that becomes so difficult to get rid of, even with diet and exercise.

Could it be something else? In men, there are many other causes of weight loss. These include hyperthyroidism, stress, depression, and bowel diseases. Sadly, cancer accounts for a good number of cases of unintentional weight loss, and should thus not be ignored.

What can the doctor do for me? Any person with unintentional weight loss should undergo a thorough search for a cause. This search includes a history check, physical examination, and a barrage of tests that could identify not just cancer, but also other diseases that cause weight loss.

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