Cancer kills Nearly 1.7 million people receive a cancer diagnosis in 2017, and more than 600,000 people will die from it, according to a report from the American Cancer Society (ACS).
And the photo appears to be especially terrible for the men. For all types of cancer combined, cancer rates are 20 percent higher in men than in women and that there are 40 percent more likely to die. So it is no surprise that cancer is considered the second most common cause of death of men.
The even scarier? Many of the leading cancer killers have no obvious symptoms in their earliest stages. And that is an example where ignorance is certainly not bliss: Hard-to-spot cancer—or preventive screenings are not yet available, or you do not recognize the symptoms as something serious enough to get checked out—can lead to a delay in diagnosis and treatment, which can reduce your chances of a successful store.
So for this National men’s Health Week—a national initiative that is aimed at increasing awareness of preventable health problems, early detection and treatment of diseases facing men—we make it our mission to shine a light on these hard-to-spot cancer.
Read on to see how they would be able to take in your body before you even realize it, and what you can do about it before it is too late.
WHY LUNG CANCER MAY BE DIFFICULT TO DETECT
Although prostate cancer is more common, lung cancer is by far the most important cause of cancer death in men. Only 16 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage, according to the American Lung Association. As the disease spreads and becomes more aggressive, only 4 percent of people survive at least five years.
Why it is difficult to detect: Most people associate lung cancer with smoking, but that doesn’t paint the whole picture, says David Ross Camidge, M. D., D. Ph., professor of medical oncology and lung cancer researcher at the University of Colorado Cancer Center.
While smoking is linked to the majority of the cases of lung cancer, the disease still strikes people who never even a cigarette touched, he explains.
In most other cases, the debt of radon, a naturally occurring gas that you cannot see or smell. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. and approximately 1 in 15 homes have high radon, according to the CDC.
Plus, you might not even realize that you have lung cancer until it has already progressed to a more deadly stage: “Your lungs are mostly air, so you can actually grow a pretty decent sized crowd without even noticing it,” says Dr. Camidge. “By the time you get the symptoms, the cancer may have already spread.” These symptoms are a constant cough, shortness of breath and unexplained weight loss.
But the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force has pretty narrow guidelines for who the recommend get CT scans for lung cancer screening: those who smoked a pack of cigarettes per day for at least 30 years, are still smoking or stopped within the last 15 years and older in their 50s by the’ 70s.
“So if you’re a guy in your 30s and you’ve never smoked, you will never be eligible for a screening test,” says Dr. Camidge.
What you can do: Skip the stereotypes. Regardless of whether you’re a smoker or not, ignore the warning signs of lung cancer that is shown above when they appear.
Many doctors will hear that you have a cough, have never been a smoker, and automatically assume that it can’t be lung cancer, says Dr. Camidge. So they will usually treat you for less serious disorders that share common symptoms, such as asthma or bronchitis. But if your cough persists for a few months, you should talk with your doctor about your options for a test, especially if you are coughing up blood.
WHY COLORECTAL CANCER CAN BE DIFFICULT TO DETECT
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men in the United States, according to the ACS.
While the majority of the cases of colorectal cancer affects men over 50, the disease is rapidly on the rise in young people. People born in 1990 have double the risk of cancer of the colon and four the risk of rectal cancer than people who were born in 1950, when colorectal cancer risk was at its lowest, according to a study by the ACP.
Why it is difficult to detect: While colorectal cancer comes with a fair share of the symptoms, they usually do not appear in the earliest stages, when the cancer is most likely to be cured, says William Grady, M. D., a clinical researcher specializing in colon cancer prevention at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
“Don’t you know, if you have an early detection of colorectal cancer. The only time that you will know when it is much more advanced. Even then, the symptoms are not so that it is difficult to know what they mean,” he adds. This means that you probably are wrong common symptoms such as abdominal cramps, blood in the stool, and a persistent, unexplained change in your bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea—for a different type of stomach or digestive problem in the first place.
That is the reason why it is vital to get yourself checked by means of regular screening, since the pre-cancerous growths can be removed before they develop into cancer, and before they begin causing symptoms.
Almost all colorectal cancer starts as a benign colon polyp is a clump of cells that forms on the inside of your colon or rectum, said Dr. Grady. Only 1 in 10 polyps ever a form of cancer, as they do, and it usually takes about 10 to 15 years for the cancer to form. Colonoscopies are the most powerful way to find and remove a polyp early.
But if you don’t get yourself checked, there is usually no outward signs of colon cancer until it progress, and you start experiencing the red flag symptoms, as mentioned above.
What you can do: Ask your doctor about screenings. Only slightly more than half of the people that need to get tested for colorectal cancer, according to the ACS.
Most guys need to start getting regular colonoscopies at age 50. But if you are a first degree family member, who suffered from the disease, you should start screenings at 40 or 10 years younger than they were when they were first diagnosed, the American College of Gastroenterology recommends.
These colonoscopies can be a lifesaver: 9 out of 10 people who are diagnosed with colon cancer early are cured, says Dr. Grady. For those who are diagnosed late, after the cancer outside of the bowel to other organs such as the liver or lungs, but 1 in 20 healed. (Here are six ways you can prevent cancer of the colon.)
WHY PANCREATIC CANCER CAN BE DIFFICULT TO DETECT
The ACP predicts that 27,970 men will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017—compare that with the 116,990 men who will be diagnosed with lung cancer. Still, while pancreatic cancer accounts for just three percent of all cancers, makes up about 7 percent of all cancer deaths.
One of the reasons is over-represented in the death column? The disease is one of the most treacherous ones there are: “We have no way to screen for cancer of the pancreas and the symptoms do not develop until it is usually not a cure, so that almost everyone who gets pancreatic cancer will die from it,” says Dr. Grady.
Why it is difficult to detect: Abdominal or back pain, weight loss, lack of appetite, nausea, and blood clots fairly non-specific symptoms of pancreatic cancer that could be attributed to many other things. The cancer has usually spread to your liver before you develop a clear sign that there is something really not good: jaundice, which makes your skin and eyes yellow.
The structure and the setup of your organs is part of the reason. Your digestive tract is in fact a series of tubes and organs with several layers, including your pancreas, says Dr. Grady. The layers around some areas, such as your colon, are fairly thick. Thicker layers allow the cancer more time to grow before they spread to other organs, possibly stimulating your doctor the chance of finding it in time to treat it before it becomes aggressive.
But your pancreas is different—the outer layers are pretty thin. That means that the cancer can quickly spread beyond the pancreas. “We think the problem is that by the time you develop symptoms, the cancer has almost always spread beyond the organ in the different regions,” says Dr. Grady.
Plus, your pancreas is located deep in your body, so your doctor can not see or feel early tumors during routine checks, according to the ACS.
What you can do: While researchers put in a lot of effort to come up with better early detection tests, nothing like that is currently available for most people, says Dr. Grady. Such as cancer of the colon polyps, there are precancerous lesions on your pancreas that can go to cancer, but more research needs to be done to know for sure, ” he says.
So prevention is the key. The best thing you can do is to minimize the risk, says Dr. Grady. Smokers are twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer than people who have never smoked, according to the ACS. (Here is the best way to stop smoking forever.) And since people who are overweight are 20 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, maintaining a healthy weight is of great importance, too.
WHY MELANOMA CAN BE DIFFICULT TO DETECT
While melanoma accounts for only about 1 percent of cancer of the skin, it ensures that a part of the cancer deaths, according to the ACS.
And it is on the rise. Melanoma rates have doubled in the past three decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the boys are particularly at risk. Men who developed stage-four melanoma are more likely to die than women, possibly as a result of immune system differences, says Tara Gangadhar, M. D., assistant professor of hematology oncology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.
Why it is difficult to detect, It is not really easy to eyeball the difference between a harmless spot on your skin, and a cancer mole. A big reason? Don’t you know that a dark brown mol is not the only sign to watch out for, says Dr. Gangadhar.
A number of melanomas are colorless, flesh-colored, or even red and pink—which means you would be able to brush it off as a pimple, wart, or even not notice it, ” she says. Plus, even if you find a suspicious mark, hectic schedules get in the way, so you can convert to it looked at while the cancer is in the earliest stages.
But ignoring the warning signs can be fatal: Even after the melanoma is surgically removed from your skin, it can come back and spread to other organs, such as the lungs, liver or brain, making it much more difficult to heal, explains Dr. Gagadhar. Other forms of skin cancer, such as squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas rarely return or spread at the same rate that melanoma.
What you can do: Scan your skin—even if you slather on the sunscreen. You are still a higher risk of developing melanoma if you have experienced sunburn as a child, says Dr. Gangadhar.
So if you notice any changing lesion on your skin, get it looked at by your doctor or dermatologist, says Dr. Gangadhar. Changes in the shape, the color, or the border of your moles should already raise a red flag, but cancer moles can bleed, grow fast, and become itchy, also. (These photos show you exactly what skin cancer looks like.)
WHY LIVER CANCER CAN BE DIFFICULT TO DETECT
Liver cancer is the fastest growing cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., according to a new ACP report published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. In fact, liver cancer deaths have doubled since 1980.
Only 1 in 5 people will survive five years after they are adopted, the report found. What’s more, the disease is more common in men—the ACP predicts 29,200 boys will be diagnosed with the disease in 2017.
Why it is difficult to detect, There is not a ton of progress in figuring out how to effectively detect liver cancer at an early stage, before it spreads, says Kim Miller, M. P. H., an epidemiologist at the ACS. Serious symptoms such as loss of appetite, feeling very full after a small meal, abdominal pain and jaundice—not really appear until the cancer is already very difficult to treat.
Plus, your rib cage covers the largest part of your liver, so it’s not easy for you or your physician to feel a tumor there, if you develop one, ” she says.
What you can do: Know your risk. A big reason of the liver cancer deaths are on the increase is the result of the hepatitis C epidemic among the baby Boomers, or people born between 1945 and 1965, Miller said. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants, because it can lead to liver damage and cirrhosis of the liver, scarring, and inflammation of the liver, according to the CDC.
That is the reason why the CDC recommends a blood test done to detect if you have ever been infected with the hepatitis C virus. Successful treatments can completely eliminate the virus from the body, minimizing your risk of developing liver cancer.
Even if you were not among the Baby Boomer generation, getting yourself vaccinated against the hepatitis B infection can help to protect you because it can also lead to damage of the liver.
And if you are a high risk—significance of chronic viral hepatitis, cirrhosis, or metabolic disorders such as excess body weight and type 2 diabetes—there are a number of physicians who offer screening tests, such as ultrasounds and CT scans. But there is still no data to confirm the effectiveness of them, says Miller.
This article first appeared on the Health of Men.