In honor of Men’s Health Month, Rocky Mountain Cancer Center Medical Oncologist David Andorsky weighs in on health changes that men especially shouldn’t overlook and the importance of cancer screenings
Dubbed the “gender gap” in health, studies have shown that men are less likely to go to the doctor than women, which may account for why men die younger than their female counterparts. In honor of Men’s Health Month, Dr. David Andorsky, a medical oncologist at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers in Boulder, weighs in on six symptoms men should never ignore and why men should pay attention to the current cancer screening recommendations and take the time for annual tests that could save their lives.
6 Cancer Symptoms Men Should Never Ignore
“Early detection is the key to having a high chance of curing cancer and needing to do less to achieve that goal,” Dr. Andorsky says.
1. A change in one or both testicles.
Testicular cancer, while rare, is the most common type of cancer for men in their 20s and 30s, Dr. Andorsky says. “Men don’t need to be doing a monthly exam like women should be doing with their breasts but if a man feels like one testicle is getting bigger, if there’s a lump or if it feels funny in some way, it’s worth a trip to the doctor to get it checked out,” he said. “While testicular cancer is highly curable, if you let it go longer, your chances of curing it decrease as with any cancer, and you’ll start needing more arduous treatments, like chemotherapy.”
2. Losing weight unexpectedly.
Unintentional weight loss can be a sign of many different medical conditions, including cancer. How much is too much, exactly? Most doctors agree that if you lose 5 percent of your body weight in six months to one year (10 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds) without trying, you should certainly mention it to your doctor.
3. A persistent cough.
If you have a cough that you just can’t seem to shake you might be entering chronic cough territory. A chronic cough is defined as lasting for weeks or months or produces blood. “While a chronic cough is often benign, it could be an early sign of lung cancer and I recommend getting it checked out,” Dr. Andorsky said.
4. Chronic abdominal pain.
While occasional stomach aches aren’t all that concerning, stomach pain that continues past the three-month mark — whether it is present all of the time or seems to come and go — merits a visit to your doctor, Dr. Andorsky says.
5. Blood in the urine.
While it can be alarming to see blood in your urine, called hematuria, it is somewhat common for men over the age of 50. Often the cause is harmless — like indicating an enlarged prostate — but it can also be a sign of advanced kidney, bladder, or prostate cancer. Likewise, seeing blood in your semen is another issue you wouldn’t want to ignore. Dr. Andorsky recommends men start prostate cancer screenings at age 50, and earlier if there’s a family history of cancer.
“The common way is to use a blood test for PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen); if it’s elevated that can indicate prostate cancer, though there’s lots of controversy surrounding the test. Men can also have a rectal exam as part of their annual physical,” Dr. Andorsky said.
6. An enlarged lymph node that won’t return to normal size.
It’s normal to feel enlarged lymph nodes on your neck or under your jawline when fighting off a cold or some other illness, Dr. Andorsky says. “Give it a few weeks but if the lymph node doesn’t go away after the infection resolves, there could be something else going on,” he cautions.
3 Tips for Staying Healthy
1. Begin Screenings at Age 50
When it comes to medical care, Dr. Andorsky prefers personalized medicine, where you weigh a patient’s individual history when making health decisions including when to start cancer screenings. Generally speaking, Dr. Andorsky recommends men begin important screenings like prostate cancer screenings and colonoscopies (“there are also newer, less involved stool tests that look for cancer DNA,” according to Dr. Andorsky) at age 50.
Additionally, doctors recommend men who are at high risk for lung cancer — heavy smokers with a history of 30 pack-years or more — undergo an annual lung cancer screening starting at age 55. During the screening, a low-dose CT scan takes detailed images of your lungs.
“For men who have a family history of cancer — especially parents or siblings; or particularly if multiple family members are diagnosed with cancer under age 50 — they might benefit from genetic testing to see if something might run in the family,” Dr. Andorsky says.
2. Don’t Delay Important Health Screenings
While you may have put off important cancer screenings during COVID-19, it’s important to reschedule those appointments, Dr. Andorsky says.
“The risk of ignoring a new symptom or delaying cancer treatment far outweighs the risk of getting COVID-19,” Dr. Andorsky says. “Like at all medical facilities, here at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, we’re being very, very careful to screen anyone who might be sick with COVID-19 and make sure they don’t even walk through the door. The risk of catching it at a medical facility is extremely low. However, if you put off a colonoscopy for six months and now have more advanced cancer, that’s a much bigger problem.”
3. Maintain a Healthy Body Weight With Diet and Exercise
Maintaining a healthy body weight through diet and exercise is the most important step someone can take to prevent cancer or other health problems, Dr. Andorsky says.
Both patients and friends ask Dr. Andorsky about trendy diets and supplements.
“The truth is, there isn’t one magic food or supplement shown to be helpful to prevent cancer. It’s important to eat a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and limit red meat.”
Moving your body regularly and working up a sweat is equally key to staying healthy.
“As I’ve gotten older, I try to be diligent about getting vigorous exercise three to four times a week, about 30 minutes at a time — enough to work up a sweat,” Dr. Andorsky recommends.
Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers’ cancer care specialists are committed to providing excellent treatment and patient-centered care. With 20 state-of-the-art outpatient treatment centers across the state, access to Colorado’s largest and most comprehensive provider of cancer care is close by. You can request an appointment online.