In June we look at men’s health and the type of cancers which mainly affect men: prostate cancer, testicular cancer and penile cancer.
We’ll also look at breast cancer in men. Although breast cancer predominantly affects women, an increasing amount of men are being diagnosed with this type of cancer, and it’s very important that men know how to check their pecs!
In this article we’ll take a brief look at:
- The types of cancer that mainly affect men.
- Men get breast cancer too.
- What are the symptoms, and what to look out for.
- Causes of these types of cancer.
- Diagnosis and treatment.
- How we can help you live well with cancer and manage your symptoms and side effects.
The types of cancer that mainly affect men
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located just below the bladder. The prostate’s main function is to produce seminal fluid. The prostate continues to grow as men get older and can lead to a condition called benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH or prostate enlargement), this condition doesn't increase your risk of getting prostate cancer, but it’s worth knowing about the symptoms of both BPH and prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer has an unusual characteristic compared to other cancers in that it doesn’t spread rapidly to other parts of the body. This means that when diagnosed with prostate cancer men can continue their lives in good health with little impact from the tumour. This is even true for those with advanced prostate cancer, although the growth of your tumour and any symptoms will be managed closely.
Testicular cancer begins when a bunch of cells grow out of control and form a malignant tumour. This tumour can then spread to other parts of your body. Despite the name testicular cancer can start in other areas of the body namely towards the back of the abdomen, in an area near your lungs, the lower spine or in the pineal gland, but most commonly it is discovered in the testicles.
Penile cancer is a rare form of cancer that occurs mostly in uncircumcised men. There are different types of penile cancer but most (up to 95%) are squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.
Men get breast cancer too
Every year in the UK, between 300 and 400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer. There is no routine screening specifically for men so the only way this type of cancer is detected, is by self-checking! Set yourself a reminder to check your chest once per month.
Warning signs to look out for:
- An inverted nipple.
- A lump behind the nipple.
- Discharge, reddening or skin dimpling.
If you feel or detect any of the above get in touch with your GP. Find out more about male breast cancer in this guest blog from Walk The Walk.
What are the symptoms of these types of cancers?
As the prostate gland lies just below the bladder, symptoms of cancer only start to display once the gland has swollen to the point where it constructs the urethra. When this happens you may experience symptoms such as:
- A need to urinate frequently, especially at night.
- Difficulty starting urination or holding back urine.
- Weak or interrupted flow of urine.
- Painful or burning urination.
- Difficulty in having an erection.
- Painful ejaculation.
- Blood in urine or semen.
- Frequent pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs.
These symptoms can also mean that your prostate is enlarged and not that you have cancer, but you should always let your GP know if you are experiencing these symptoms.
Testicular cancer is a less common type of cancer and affects younger men between the ages of 15 and 49 years. Symptoms are a painless swelling or lump in one of the testicles, or any change of shape or texture of the testicles.
The best prevention is knowing what feels normal to you and regularly checking yourself. If you notice anything different get in touch with your GP. We've included a link to a handy video from The Movember Foundation below.
Most cancers of the penis affect the skin covering the penis (foreskin), or the head or tip (glans) of the penis.
The most common symptoms are:
- a growth or sore that does not heal within four weeks.
- a rash.
- bleeding from the penis or under the foreskin.
- a smelly discharge.
- thickening of the skin of the penis or foreskin that makes it difficult to pull back the foreskin (phimosis).
- a change in the colour of the skin of your penis or foreskin.
- Other symptoms of penile cancer include:
- a lump in the groin.
- feeling tired.
- stomach pain.
- losing weight without trying.
Causes of these types of cancer
It’s not known what causes prostate cancer, but there are a few risk factors which could increase your chance of getting it:
- Age, most cases are diagnosed in men 50 years and over.
- Ethnic group, men from Afro-Caribbean and African descent.
- Family history, if you have a brother or father who was diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 60. Also if you have a female relative who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Note that there is a difference between familial prostate cancer and hereditary prostate cancer. Cancer.net has more information on the difference.
- Obesity and lack of physical activity.
- Diet, research is being conducted into the link between a diet high in calcium and developing prostate cancer.
As with most cancers the causes of testicular cancer are unknown but there are certain risk factors that could increase your chance of getting it. Risk factors can influence the chance of you developing cancer but most do not directly cause cancer.
- Undescended testicles, is the most significant risk factor of testicular cancer. If a baby boy’s testicles haven’t descended by one year of age or at a later stage then a procedure called orchidopexy can be performed. This procedure is performed during early childhood to avoid increasing their risk of developing testicular cancer.
- Family history, having a close family member such as a brother or father who has had testicular cancer can increase your chance of developing it as well.
- Previous diagnosis of this type of cancer, if you’ve developed a tumour in one testicle there’s a chance you may develop a tumour in your other testicle.
Risk factors can influence the chance of you developing cancer but most do not directly cause cancer. You could have all the risk factors of a certain type of cancer and never develop it, just like you could have no risk factors and go on to develop cancer. Roughly over half of penile cancer cases are caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) but most people affected by HPV will not go on to develop penile cancer. Other risk factors are:
- Age, those diagnosed with penile cancer are usually over 50.
- A condition called phimosis.
- Have received treatment for psoriasis with psoralens and PUVA treatment.
- Have a weakened immune system due to a condition such as HIV.
Diagnosing these cancers
If you have symptoms that could be caused by prostate cancer, book an appointment with your GP. There are a number of tests which can be conducted and your GP will be able to talk you through them beforehand. They may:
- Ask for a urine sample to check for infection.
- Take a blood sample to test your level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) – called PSA testing.
- Perform a rectal exam.
Your GP will assess your risk of having prostate cancer based on the results of the above tests, as well as your age, family history and ethnic group.
If you're at risk, you should be referred to hospital to discuss the options of further tests.
Further tests can include:
- An MRI scan.
- A biopsy.
Following these tests the stage and grade of your cancer will be determined. If your cancer is in the very early stages your doctor may suggest waiting and seeing how the cancer progresses (as prostate cancer can be very slow growing).
Most lumps within the scrotum are not cancerous, but it's important to get checked as soon as possible.
Treatment for testicular cancer is much more effective when started early.
After running some initial tests, if your GP is concerned, they will refer you to a specialist who can perform further tests which can include:
- An ultrasound scan.
- Blood tests.
- Histology, this involves removing the whole testicle as opposed to a biopsy which only takes a sample from the tumour. This test is only done if the specialist is sure that the lump is cancerous. Usually the above two tests are enough to confirm if cancer has developed.
The removal of one of your testicles has no physical impact on your ability to have sex or have children.
A biopsy is the main way of determining if you have this type of cancer. Your GP will refer you to a specialist to undergo the biopsy which will be sent off for further tests.
Having any of the abovementioned symptoms doesn’t definitely mean you have penile cancer. But it's important to get them checked by a GP. This is because if they're caused by cancer, finding it early can make it more treatable.
Treatment of any cancer very much depends on the stage and grade of your cancer and whether it has metastasised (spread to other parts of your body).
For prostate cancer treatment may not be immediately necessary but in some cases it can be cured with early treatment. Which can include:
- Removing the prostate.
Testicular cancer is one of the most easily cured cancers with a 99% survival rate. Treatment is usually made of a plan of three treatments: chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. Depending on the stage and grade of your cancer you may receive one or more of these treatments in combination.
Treatment almost always starts with the removal of the affected testicle, followed by a dose of chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. The whole affected testicle is always removed as partial removal of just the tumour can result in the cancer spreading.
The chance of reoccurrence is low, but you will be carefully monitored over some years.
Living with cancer
No matter what type of cancer you have been diagnosed with, and what stage or grade it is or whatever treatment plan you have been prescribed, it goes without saying that it will have some impact on other parts of your life.
Being diagnosed with cancer is life changing and often the wait to hear what your next steps are can be the hardest part. This is where we can help you. With our range of treatments, therapies and lifestyle changes, we can help you, your body and mind get into the best place possible to achieve the best results from your treatment.
Online treatment support and an introduction
Introduction morning - This session is suitable for anyone new to Penny Brohn UK, who has not used our services or who wants to know more.
Online Treatment Support Clinic - This session is to help people preparing for, undergoing, or recovering from cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery or immunotherapy. This clinic can help you find ways to improve wellbeing and manage side effects.
Coping with cancer
We can support you through and beyond your cancer experience.
We can help you regain your new sense of normality but also make positive lifestyle changes such as getting back into exercise, eating well and looking after your mental and emotional wellbeing.
Useful resources and further reading
Prostate Cancer UK: diet, physical activity and your risk of prostate cancer
Check your pair: a how to guide - The Movember Foundation
Men get breast cancer too - Walk the Walk for Penny Brohn UK
Penile Cancer - Macmillan Cancer Support
Hereditary and familial prostate cancer information - Cancer.net