Symptom 5: Weight Loss Without Trying
Unexpected weight loss is a concern, Lichtenfeld says. “Most of us don’t lose weight easily.” He’s talking about more than simply a few pounds from a stepped up exercise program or to eating less because of a busy schedule. If a man loses more than 10% of his body weight in a short time period such as a matter of weeks, it’s time to see the doctor, he says.
Your doctor will do a general physical, ask you questions about your diet and exercise, and ask about other symptoms. Based on that information, the doctor will decide what other tests are needed.
Symptom 6: Abdominal Pain and Depression
“Any guy who’s got a pain in the abdomen and is feeling depressed needs a checkup,” says Lichtenfeld. Experts have found a link between depression and pancreatic cancer. Other symptoms can include jaundice or a change in the stool color, often a gray color.
Expect your doctor to do a careful physical exam and take a history. The doctor may then order tests such as a chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI, and, possibly, other scans and test.
Symptom 7: Fatigue
Fatigue is another vague symptom that could point to cancer in men. But a host of other problems could cause it as well. Like fever, fatigue can set in after the cancer has grown. But it may also happen early in cancers such as leukemia or with some colon or stomach cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.
If you often feel extremely tired and it doesn’t get better with rest, check with your doctor. The doctor will evaluate it along with any other symptoms in order to determine what’s causing it and what can be done about it.
Symptom 8: Persistent Cough
Coughs are expected, of course, with colds, the flu, and allergies. They are also sometimes a side effect of a medication. But a very prolonged cough — defined as lasting more than three or four weeks — should not be ignored, says Ranit Mishori, MD, assistant professor and director of the family medicine clerkship at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. That kind of cough warrants a visit to the doctor. It could be a symptom of cancer, or it could indicate some other problem such as chronic bronchitis or acid reflux.
Your doctor will take a careful history, examine your throat, check how your lungs are functioning, and, especially if you are a smoker, perhaps order X-rays. Once the reason for the coughing is identified, the doctor will work with you to determine a treatment plan.
Symptom 9: Urinary Problems
As men age, urinary problems become more frequent, says Yu. He’s talking about the urge to urinate more often, a sense of urgency, and a feeling of not completely emptying the bladder. “Every man will develop these problems as he gets older,” he says. “But if you notice it and it concerns you, you should seek attention.” That’s especially true if the symptoms get worse.
Your doctor will do a digital rectal exam, which will tell him whether the prostate gland is enlarged. The gland often enlarges as a man ages. It’s typically caused by a noncancerous condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH. Your doctor may also order a blood test to check the level of prostate-specific antigen or PSA. PSA is a protein produced by the prostate gland, and the test is used to help determine the possibility of prostate cancer. If the doctor notices abnormalities in the prostate or if the PSA is higher than it should be, your doctor may refer you to an urologist and perhaps order a biopsy.
Symptom 10: Blood Where It Shouldn’t Be
“Anytime you see blood coming from a body part where you’ve never seen it before, see a doctor,” Lichtenfeld says. “If you start coughing or spitting up blood, have blood in the bowel, or blood in the urine, it’s time for a doctor visit.”
Mishori says it’s a mistake to assume blood in the stool is simply from a hemorrhoid. “It could be colon cancer,” he says.
Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. The doctor may also order tests such as a colonoscopy, which is an examination of the colon using a long flexible tube with a camera on one end. The purpose of a colonoscopy is to identify any signs of cancer or precancer or to identify what else might be causing the bleeding.