Despite 37,000 men being affected by male cancers each year, 68% don’t know how to check for symptoms. The experts tell what to look out for, and why a new campaign is urging women to encourage the men in their lives to give themselves the once over.
By Lisa Salmon
Men are notoriously backwards at coming forwards when physical symptoms suggest they may need to see a doctor.
While that’s not a problem if they’ve got man flu, it can be life-threatening if their symptoms are caused by something as serious as cancer.
Prostate cancer is the most common male cancer in the UK, killing 10,000 men a year, yet many are ignoring its potential symptoms, or don’t know what they are in the first place.
The same can be said for testicular cancer, and the much rarer penile cancer.
New research released by Orchid, the male cancer charity, has found that 68% of men either don’t know or are unsure about how to check for the signs of male cancer.
More than a third of those surveyed admitted that they wouldn’t go to their doctor unless they were “ill enough”, with a further 33% preferring to “tough it out”.
It’s this life-threatening procrastination, as well as the failure to recognise symptoms, that has prompted Orchid to launch the new campaign ‘His Health In Your Hands’ to mark the annual Orchid Male Cancer Awareness Week (April 11-17).
The campaign is calling on women to be proactive in encouraging their man to be aware of the symptoms of the three male specific cancers - testicular, penile and prostate - so they seek advice as early as possible.
Orchid found that one in five men would rely on their partner to make their GP appointment should they discover a lump in their testis, for example.
However, 53% of men surveyed wouldn’t go to their GP if they suspected a health problem, preferring to try the internet or family and friends for information first.
Rebecca Porta, chief executive of Orchid, says: “Male cancer awareness is a significant problem in the UK today and it can still be a challenge to get men to take their health seriously.
“As this research shows, we all have a role to play in working together to fight male cancer, whether it’s to encourage self-checks or to seek medical advice and information.
“We’re calling on all women to be proactive in encouraging the man in their lives - their husband, father, son, brother - to be more male cancer aware.”
The big three
Prostate cancer mainly affects men over the age of 65, and in nearly half of cases the disease will have spread before diagnosis, making it far harder to treat.
Symptoms of prostate cancer are similar to benign prostate enlargement, which can be cured fairly easily. They include passing urine more frequently and having difficulty (and occasionally pain or blood) when passing urine.
Testicular cancer is the most common cancer among men aged 15-45, affecting 2,000 a year. In more than a third of cases, the disease has spread before diagnosis.
The usual symptom is a lump or swelling in a testicle, most commonly found on the front or side. Other symptoms can include a dull ache or sharp pain in the testicles or scrotum, a dull ache in the lower abdomen, or a sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum.
Research has shown that less than 4% of testicular lumps are cancerous, but it’s vital to see a doctor straight away to have it checked as, if caught early enough, testicular cancer has a cure rate of more than 95%. It can also mean a man’s fertility is usually preserved, although it may be affected when there’s been a late diagnosis and chemotherapy is used.
Penile cancer is much rarer, with less than 400 cases annually. It mainly affects men over the age of 60, although there are younger cases. A quarter of those diagnosed with this won’t survive.
The first sign of penile cancer can be a change in skin colour and skin thickening. Later symptoms include a growth or sore on the penis. There may also be discharge or bleeding, however, these symptoms are more likely to be other benign conditions.
Being body aware
Men of all ages should make sure they know what’s normal and what’s not.
Dr Tom Powles, a senior lecturer in medical oncology at the Barts Cancer Institute, explains: “There shouldn’t be any lumps in the testis itself.
“The problem is that testicular cancer is painless and goes slowly, so men don’t tend to worry about it too much - they think it’ll go away.”
He says he’s seen men with a cancer making the testicle the size of an orange, and stresses: “They thought it would get better with time. It doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but it still happens.”
Powles says prostate cancer is far more common, and points out that there are many different varieties, and it’s not clear how lethal early prostate cancer is.
“There are types of prostate cancer that can rage like a forest fire, and others that don’t cause any problems at all for 20 or 30 years. There’s a huge spectrum and that’s why it’s so difficult to treat.”
However, he says that older men with prostate cancer should be aware that the disease is extremely common, and there are many treatment options, including simply monitoring the cancer, and hormone therapy.
Other treatments are similar to those for testicular and penile cancer, and include surgery and radiotherapy. Chemotherapy may also be an option, but is generally used only for advanced prostate cancer.
Powles says women are needed to encourage men to seek help simply because “men are so bad at it”.
With regards to testicular cancer in younger men, he adds: “Young men feel pretty indestructible. They don’t want to worry about a cancer diagnosis, and many don’t realise how curable testes cancer is if you catch it early.
“If a woman’s partner notices a lump, she shouldn’t let him ignore it.”
Tips for women:
:: Make it easy for him - give him the number and address of the GP, and go with him.
:: Remind him that ignoring a worrying symptom won’t make it go away. A visit to the GP will reassure him everything is OK, or will ensure prompt attention.
:: Try to understand what the obstacle is - is he worried about receiving bad news, or is there a family history of illness? Let him know you understand.
:: Encourage him to write down any questions before going to the GP and make sure he gets the answers.
:: Find out as much as possible about his symptoms and talk about them - but don’t diagnose.
:: If all else fails use guilt - tell him you’re worried.
:: Avoid nagging. Be supportive, encouraging and determined.
:: For more information about male cancers, or to order a specially-designed T-shirt to mark Orchid Male Cancer Awareness Week, visit www.orchid-cancer.org.uk.