Raising public awareness of cancer is paramount to encourage early detection, which in turn could save lives. It’s important for men to know to which cancers they might be most vulnerable.

In the spirit of being cancer-conscious, it’s really important to draw attention to the Big 5 cancers that men in SA should lookout for.

Moreover, and just as importantly, it can’t hardly be stressed enough that regular screening for cancers could quite literally be the difference between a stage 1 and a stage 4 diagnosis.

Unfortunately, many cancers don’t present with obvious symptoms until the disease has spread and metastasised. In the past few years, the incidence of men being diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer has increased.

If you’re a guy (or if you happen to know one), you should be aware of the cancers affecting men.

In ascending order of incidence rates, here’s the Big 5 cancer countdown

#5. Kaposi’s sarcoma

Above: Cross section of human skin. Kaposi’s sarcoma can form black, brown, red or purple lesions on the skin. (Image courtesy Madhero 88 and M. Komorniczak @Wikipedia.org)

  • According to CANSA, Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS) affects approximately 1 in every 320 men, and men with HIV/AIDS are at a significantly increased risk of developing the disease owing to complications with the immune system.
  • The cancer forms red, purple, black or brown papules/lesions on the skin, in the mouth, the gastrointestinal tract and the respiratory system.
  • Human herpesvirus 8 is found in all KS lesions – meaning that the cancer can be transmitted through saliva or during intercourse.
  • There is no screening test for KS, so men should be vigilant with regard to the appearance of lesions and seek medical treatment immediately if KS is suspected.
  • A biopsy is the only means by which a definitive diagnosis can be obtained.

#4. Bladder cancer

  • CANSA indicates that bladder cancer affects 1 in every 152 men, but white males above 50 years of age are at a higher risk of developing the disease.
  • Smoking is always a bad idea for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that it doubles the chances of bladder cancer.
  • Symptoms include the need to urinate frequently, blood and/or blood clots in the urine (blood may make the urine appear brown) and pain when urinating.
  • If cancer is suspected as a possible culprit for the above symptoms, tests may include cystoscopy, biopsy, and laboratory and imaging tests.
  • The positive news is that if the cancer is caught early (stage 1), 90% of patients survive five years after diagnosis.

#3. Lung cancer

  • Lung cancer and colorectal cancer have a very similar rate of incidence. Using CANSA’s figures, lung cancer will affect 1 in every 80 men.
  • Symptoms include chest pains, loud breathing, shortness of breath, intense bouts of coughing and coughing up blood. As with many cases of prostate cancer, the disease may not display any symptoms until it advances.
  • Even if the cancer has not spread, the post-diagnosis five-year survival rate is as low as 50%.
  • Don’t smoke, or quit as soon as you possibly can.
  • All men above 50 that have a history of smoking should consult a medical professional and be screened according to medical advice.

#2. Colorectal cancer

  • Just beating lung cancer to number two is colorectal cancer, which will affect 1 in every 79 men (source: CANSA).
  • As with lung and prostate cancer, colorectal cancer may display no symptoms during its early development.
  • Once symptoms do develop, they may include stomach pain, blood in the stool, rectal bleeding, unpredictable bowel movements and weight loss.
  • It is advised that men over the age of 50 go for a screening at least once every ten years. Your doctor, however, may revise this timeline given your individual risk factors.
  • Faecal occult blood tests will indicate if further medical examination is needed (for example, a colonoscopy).
  • If the cancer is caught in stage 1, the five-year survival rate post-diagnosis is 75%.

#1. Prostate cancer

  • The incidence of prostate cancer is incredibly high. The Prostate Cancer Foundation’s statistics show that in South Africa:
    • about 1 in 8 to 1 in 9 white men are likely to be affected by prostate cancer
    • about 1 in 4 to 1 in 6 black men are likely to be affected by prostate cancer
  • The prostate is situated immediately under the bladder, and envelops the urethra. It produces a milky white fluid necessary for semen production, and it’s in the prostate that sperm cells produced in the testes enter into the urethra.
  • Given the prostate’s location and function, symptoms of prostate cancer include various problems with urination, erectile dysfunction, painful ejaculation, and blood in the urine and semen.
  • Symptoms, as indicated, may not show in the early stages.
  • The South African Prostate Cancer Guidelines recommend that:
    • Black South African men and men with a positive family history of breast or prostate cancer consider screening from the age of 40.
    • Men from all other ethnic groups should consider screening from the age of 45.
  • Screening should include a Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test and a digital rectal examination. The PSA test is a test that gives an indication as to whether or not something is wrong with your prostate.
  • A physical exam of the prostate can be conducted via a Digital Rectal Examination (a finger is inserted into the rectum and the prostate is examined for lumps and swelling).
  • Depending on the results, a biopsy may be needed.
  • The really good news is that if prostate cancer is caught early, the five-year post-diagnosis survival rate is very high – in the US, for example, it approaches 100%.

Help spread awareness of the Big 5 male cancers

Awareness of cancer is one of the first steps to early detection and timely treatment. Help spread the news about the symptoms and tests for prostate and testicular cancer by joining the 2019 Daredevil Run on the 15th of March. Learn everything you need to know here.

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.