Cancer in men: Shining a light on men's health
Published 1 Nov 2021 • By Claudia Lima
November is not only Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, but it is also a month to raise awareness about cancer and other men's health issues. Although most cancers affect both men and women, some affect men more or even exclusively.
Which cancers are most common in men? How can they be detected and prevented?
We explain it all in our article!
Globally, there were an estimated 18.1 million new cases of cancer in 2018. One in 5 men and one in 6 women will develop a form of cancer in their lifetime.
In the UK, there are around 375,000 new cancer cases each year, that's around 1,000 new cases every day. Cancer remains among the top 10 leading causes of death in the UK.
Which cancers affect men?
Apart from gender-specific cancers, men are affected by all types of cancer: brain, ENT, digestive tract, blood, skin and bone marrow.
The cancers that are specific to men include: prostate cancer, the most frequent with 52,300 cases in 2018, and testicular cancer, with 2,400 cases.
Men are also more affected mouth and throat cancer (8,400 cases per year), kidney cancer (8,400 cases), bladder cancer (7,500 cases) and skin cancers (melanoma; 8,400 cases).
In terms of mortality, lung cancer is responsible for the greatest number of deaths in men (18,600 deaths), followed by colorectal (9,100) and prostate (11,900) cancers.
It should be noted that breast cancer in men also exists. It typically concerns less than 1% of cancers in men, but should not be ignored.
What causes cancer in men?
Today, 40% of cancers are preventable, regardless of gender. The main risk factors for men and women are smoking, alcohol, unbalanced diet and, being overweight.
How are each of these factors responsible for the development of cancer?
Smoking: Smoking is responsible for 29% of new cancer cases in men. It is the leading cause of lung, lip, mouth and throat cancer.
Alcohol: Almost one in 10 male cancers can be attributed to current or former alcohol consumption. In addition, there is evidence that excessive drinking is a risk factor for worsening prostate cancer.
Diet: Diet is estimated to account for around 6% of new cases in men, particularly the regular consumption of saturated fats (red meat, fried foods, butter, cheese, etc.) and processed meats (cold meats, bacon, sausages, etc.). This can double the risk of prostate cancer.
Excess weight and obesity: 28% of the UK population is considered overweight, 36% obese, 62% of whom are men. Abdominal obesity is considered to be an aggravating factor for prostate cancer due to the release of tumour cell growth factors by the abdominal fatty tissue and hyperandrogenism (high levels of androgens, hormones responsible for regulating the development of male characteristics), which is particularly harmful to hormone-dependent male cancers.
Family history: Nearly 10% of prostate cancers are thought to be hereditary.
Certain occupational exposures: Exposure to cancerinogens in the workplace are thought to be responsible for 5.7% of new cases of male cancer.
How to screen for male cancers?
The aim of cancer screening is to be able to start acting early, in order to better treat cancers and their symptoms. There are screening programmes, organized by public authorities, such as a screening programme for colorectal cancer, and individual screenings, prescribed by doctors.
There is no screening programme for prostate and testicular cancers, but there are ways to detect the early onset of the disease as well as to estimate the risks and make the right choices.
As far as prostate cancer is concerned, doctors have the tools to make an early diagnosis in men aged 50 and over, especially for men whose family history statistically implies a hereditary risk of developing this type of cancer. This consists of a digital rectal examination (DRE) and a blood test to measure the level of prostate specific antigen (PSA), a reliable marker of prostate activity and therefore of cancer.
For testicular cancer, the diagnosis can be made during a clinical examination or palpation in men between 20 and 30 years of age and in those over 60, as well as in patients with a history of testicular cryptorchidism (an undescended testicle).
One of the best-known movements for raising awareness of male cancers is Movember, about which we've written an article in the Health Magazine: What is Movember, the charity and movement that fights for men's health throughout the world?
How are these cancers treated?
Cancer treatments are the same for men and women. The "traditional" treatment methods include: chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.
More specifically, surgery, if deemed necessary, will be an orchiectomy for the removal of a diseased testicle and a prostatectomy for the partial or total removal of the prostate gland in prostate cancer.
How to prevent cancer in men?
Knowing that the main risk factors are linked to smoking, alcohol consumption and a poorly balanced diet, some tips to prevent these male cancers are:
- Stopping smoking,
- Stopping or reducing alcohol consumption,
- Following a balanced diet,
- Regular physical activity according to one's abilities,
- Protecting the skin from UV rays.
What happens next?
After treatment, the consequences of the cancer and its treatments must be taken into account. These can be pain, fatigue ( in 35.7% of men), limitations in physical activity (48.8%), and mental health issues.
A follow-up care plan should be put in place, with the aim of preventing a recurrence of the cancer and coordinating support services to maintain quality of life. The conditions and rhythm of this follow-up are determined on a case-by-case basis.
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