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Cancer

an African-American doctor reviewing a file with his patient in an examination room

Cancer is a group of many diseases that begin in cells, which are the building blocks of your body. In a person who has cancer, unhealthy cells grow in an out-of-control way. Most cancers are named for the part of the body where they start. You can learn about prostate cancer, which is one of the leading cancer killers of U.S. men, in our section on prostate health. Here we discuss some other cancers that commonly strike men, including skin cancer, lung cancer, colon and rectal cancer, and testicular cancer.

You can lower your risk of getting cancer by adopting a healthy lifestyle. In addition, screenings can help find some cancers early, when they may be most treatable. Ask your doctor which screenings may be right for you.

Family history and cancer

Having a family member with cancer may mean you are at an increased risk of getting cancer too. If you have a family history of cancer, your doctor may suggest ways to try to reduce your risk or offer tests that can detect cancer early. Take some steps to be smart about your family history and cancer:
  • Ask about cancer among family members, including parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Also ask about any known gene mutations.
  • Don't forget to ask about breast cancer. Although breast cancer is rare in men, having female family members with breast cancer may mean a higher risk.
  • Talk with your doctor. He or she might suggest you speak with a genetic counselor. This expert can help you better understand your risks.
  • Make sure to tell family members about any information you learn that could affect them.

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Skin cancer

Skin cancer is extremely common, and people of all skin colors can get skin cancer.

Some skin cancer risk factors include:

  • Living in areas that get high levels of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation, such as in the South or on mountains
  • Having scars or burns on the skin
  • Having fair skin that freckles or burns easily
  • Having certain diseases or using medicines that make the skin sensitive to the sun
  • Personal or family history of skin cancer

Sun exposure is the single most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. Your best defense against skin cancer is to:

  • Limit time spent outdoors when the sun's UV rays are most intense (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and seek shade when possible.
  • Never use tanning beds or sunlamps, which also give off harmful UV rays.
  • Apply water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 and that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating. Use sunscreen on cloudy days, too.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats, long sleeves, and sunglasses.
  • Check for changes in the way your skin normally looks. Let your doctor know about any changes or sores that won't heal. Also, have your skin checked by your doctor during your routine checkup. Skin cancer is very treatable when found early.

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Lung cancer

In the United States, lung cancer kills more people than any other kind of cancer. And smoking causes most cases of lung cancer. Few people who get lung cancer survive it. In fact, about 6 in 10 people with lung cancer die within a year of finding out they have it.

Risk factors for lung cancer include:

  • Smoking or breathing secondhand smoke
  • Poisons at home or work (such as radon gas and asbestos)
  • Air pollution
  • A family history of lung cancer

Take these steps to help prevent lung cancer:

  • Don't smoke. The risk of dying from lung cancer is much higher for men who smoke than for men who have never smoked.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke. Ask smokers to go outside to light up.
  • Make sure your home doesn't have radon. You can buy a test kit in a hardware store.
  • Avoid breathing in certain chemicals and other things than cause lung cancer, like asbestos. If you work with these, learn ways to lower the possible harm from them.

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Colon and rectal cancer

The colon and rectum are part of the digestive system. The colon is the large intestine (large bowel), and the rectum connects the colon to the anus. Cancer of the colon or rectum also is called colorectal cancer. In the U.S., colorectal cancer is the number three cause of cancer deaths in men.

Risk factors for colorectal cancer include:

  • Age. Most people diagnosed with colorectal cancer are older than 50.
  • Polyps. These are growths on the inner wall of the colon or rectum that may become cancer. Finding and removing polyps may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Family history. Your risk is greater if you have a parent, sibling, or child with a history of colorectal cancer. Also, some people inherit a gene that leads to colorectal cancer.
  • Personal history of colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD causes ongoing irritation in the digestive tract.
  • Certain unhealthy behaviors. These include smoking, not exercising, and gaining too much weight. These may also include eating a lot of red meat (but the research on meat is less clear).

Steps you can take that may help prevent colorectal cancer include:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Make physical activity a habit. Learn more about physical activity.
  • Limit alcohol, or don't drink any alcohol.

Screening for colorectal cancer is very important. Consider these points about screening:

  • Screening may help find some polyps before they even become cancer. Screening also may find colorectal cancer early, when it is still highly treatable.
  • Experts recommend screening for colorectal cancer starting at age 50. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you may need screening before 50. After you turn 75, ask your doctor whether you still need screening.
  • There are a few kinds of tests for colorectal cancer. You and your doctor can decide which type is best for you. How often you have the test depends on which test you choose.

You may have heard that taking low-dose aspirin every day can help prevent some types of colon cancer. That may be true for people who have a higher than average risk of getting colon cancer, according to recent research. Aspirin is not right for everyone, though, so ask your doctor about the risks and benefits of aspirin for you. The risks of aspirin include stomach and bleeding problems. If you take low-dose aspirin, you still need screening for colorectal cancer. You should not start taking aspirin daily before talking with your doctor.      

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Testicular cancer

Testicular cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells develop in one or both testicles. The testicles are the male reproductive organs. They make and store sperm and are the main source of the hormone testosterone in men. Testicular cancer is rare overall, but it is the most common cancer in men ages 15 to 35. It is also one of the most curable forms of cancer.

Some risk factors for testicular cancer include:

  • Having an undescended testicle — a testicle that did not drop down from inside the abdomen before birth
  • Having testicles that form in an abnormal way
  • Being white
  • Having a personal or family history of testicular cancer

Many experts believe that routine checking for testicular cancer (either by a doctor or by self-exam) doesn't lower the risk of dying from it. And finding signs of testicular cancer could lead to procedures that aren't necessary and have side effects. On the other hand, finding testicular cancer early may make it easier to treat. Discuss what's right for you with your doctor. If you find a lump, see your doctor right away.

If you have a young son with an undescended testicle, doctors recommend having it corrected with surgery. Undescended testicles are risk factors for testicular cancer, but experts don't know if surgery lowers the risk. Still, corrective surgery is important for other health reasons, such as preventing infertility.

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More information on Cancer

Explore other publications and websites

  • Are You At Risk for Oral Cancer? What African-American Men Need to Know - This resource provides information on who is at a higher risk of getting oral cancer. It also includes possible signs of oral cancer and suggestions on what to do if you think you have these symptoms.
  • Cancer Prevention and Early Detection Worksheet for Men (Copyright © American Cancer Society) - This worksheet is a helpful aid to educate men on the most common types of cancer that affect them. It provides a checklist of the risk factors, actions to take to lower risk, and concerns you may want to discuss with your doctor.
  • Male Breast Cancer Treatment - This publication offers information for patients about male breast cancer, including an explanation of its stages, available treatment options, and additional resources.
  • Melanoma Treatment (PDQ®) - This publication contains information about melanoma (skin cancer). It includes an explanation about the different stages and treatment options for patients with melanoma.
  • Prostate Cancer Treatment Options (Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians) - This online publication provides information about the different treatments for prostate cancer, including prostatectomy, radiation therapy, watchful waiting, and hormone therapy. It also includes the risks and benefits of each.
  • Testicular Cancer: Questions and Answers - This fact sheet provides information about the risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of testicular cancer.
  • What You Need To Know About Cancer of the Colon and Rectum - This booklet provides information on the symptoms, detection, diagnosis, possible causes, and treatment of cancer of the colon and rectum. It also provides information to help people understand their personal risk of colon and rectal cancer, the importance of screening, and what to expect if cancer is found.
  • What You Need To Know About Lung Cancer - The diagnosis of lung cancer brings with it many questions and a need for clear answers. This booklet provides an overview of lung cancer, including its causes and risk factors. It describes the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of this disease, and includes lists of questions to ask your doctor from diagnosis through treatment.
  • What You Need To Know About Melanoma - This booklet gives an overview about melanoma and discusses several types of treatment. It also provides tips on how to perform a skin self-exam and questions to ask the doctor.
  • What You Need To Know About Prostate Cancer - This booklet on prostate cancer discusses symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, emotional issues, and questions to ask the doctor. It also includes a glossary of terms and other resources.

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Content last updated January 10, 2011.

Resources last updated January 10, 2011.

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