13 Signs of Cancer in Men You Need to Stop Ignoring

Updated: Sep. 25, 2020

See a doctor about these or any other unusual pains or changes.

Cancer in men

Signs of cancer in men can often appear to be minor issues or linked to other diseases or conditions. This is why men should never ignore any health symptoms. Here are some signs of cancer to look out for, according to doctors.

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Difficulty urinating

If it’s consistently difficult to urinate, or there’s blood in your urine or semen, or if you experience unexplained erectile dysfunction, see your doctor; these could be symptoms of prostate cancer. “Unfortunately, there aren’t noticeable symptoms of prostate cancer until the aggressive stages,” says Moshe Shike, MD, gastroenterologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Dr. Shike says he frequently sees patients who ignore these symptoms for up to six months before they seek help, but the sooner you check out your symptoms, the better.

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Testicular changes

Just as women should be familiar with how their breasts look and feel, men should pay attention to their testicles. If you notice changes in size to one or both, if they feel swollen or extra heavy, or if you feel a lump, these symptoms could indicate testicular cancer, says Maurie Markman, MD, an oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Testicular cancer is most common in young and middle-aged men. However, note that regular self-exam is recommended against by evidence and the USPSTF.

doctor examining mole

Noticeable skin changes

Men over 50 are more likely to die from skin cancer than women in the same age group; young men have a higher probability of developing deadly melanoma (the most serious skin cancer) than any other cancer,  according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. It’s easy to miss the early warning signs of cancer in men, says Rich Wender, MD, chief cancer control officer for the American Cancer Society. “Many people think freckles, moles, or a darker age spot is just like the others they’ve had,” he explains. If you notice a mole getting darker, larger, or becoming raised, get it checked. With melanoma, spots are often irregularly shaped (not round), significantly darker in color, or even two distinctly different colors within one spot, he says. “Melanoma is far less common than other skin cancers, but has the potential to be more deadly,” says Dr. Wender. “However, many melanomas have a long period where they’re not invasive and easy to cure, as long as they’re caught early.”

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Sores or pain in your mouth

A cold sore that heals is probably nothing to worry about, nor is a toothache that goes away after a trip to the dentist. But if you notice sores that don’t heal, pain that sticks around, white or red patches on the gums or tongue, and any swelling or numbness of the jaw, it could be a sign of some mouth cancers. Men who smoke or use chewing tobacco have an increased risk of developing mouth cancer, says Dr. Markman. “More men smoke than women. Smokers and users of chewing tobacco need to be far more concerned with sores in their mouth that do not heal quickly, compared to non-smokers,” he says.

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Chronic coughing

A cough that lasts three weeks or more—without other symptoms, such as a cold or allergies—could be an early symptom of lung cancer. Leukemia also can lead to bronchitis-like symptoms. “If it’s different than your regular cough and if it persists, or you cough up a little blood, that’s significant,” says Dr. Markman. Some lung cancer patients report chest pain that extends up into the shoulder or down the arm.

man holding roll of toilet paper
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Blood in your stool

It could be hemorrhoids or something benign—but it could also be a symptom of colon cancer. Routine screening typically starts at age 50, but cases are becoming more common in younger adults, which is why it’s important to see a doctor for any suspicious symptoms that could turn out to be signs of cancer in men. “It’s easy to dismiss it as hemorrhoids or constipation, and if the problem comes and goes, people reassure themselves that nothing’s wrong—especially younger people,” says Dr. Wender. “But blood in a bowel movement is never normal, so get it checked out.”

man on couch with stomach pain
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Stomach pain or nausea

Everyday digestive distress is rarely cancer—but you should see a doctor if you notice persistent stomach cramps or are starting to feel nauseated all the time. It could be something as simple as an ulcer, but it could also signal leukemia or esophageal, liver, pancreatic, or colorectal cancer.

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Frequent fevers or infections

If you’re usually healthy but notice yourself getting sick or feverish more frequently, it could be an early sign of leukemia. This blood cancer triggers the body to produce abnormal white blood cells, which weakens the body’s infection-fighting abilities. Be on the lookout for flu-like symptoms that don’t go away—it could be one of the signs of cancer in men.

man with sore throat, holding glass of water
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Difficulty swallowing

If a sore throat is nothing serious, one of these home remedies for sore throats should be all it takes to relieve the pain. However, a sore throat that persists for a few weeks and gets worse could be a symptom of throat or stomach cancer, as well as an early sign of lung cancer.

bruise on knee

Excessive bruising

A random bruise is probably nothing to worry about. However, if you start to notice bruises popping up all the time, especially in places you wouldn’t normally get them, like your hands or fingers, see a doctor. Unusual bruising can be a symptom of leukemia, according to Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Over time, leukemia impairs the blood’s ability to carry oxygen and clot.

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Unexplained weight loss

“Weight loss for a lot of Americans is a good thing—everyone’s dieting—but if you have less appetite when you usually have a good appetite, and there’s no big life event or problems happening to cause that, get it checked out,” says Dr. Markman. Losing weight can be a side effect of many different cancers such as esophageal, pancreatic, liver, and colon, but it’s an especially common symptom of leukemia or lymphoma, says Dr. Wender. Unexplained weight gain can signal a big problem too—it’s one of the essential medical facts doctors think you should know.

exhausted man at home with hands on his face
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Persistent fatigue

Everyone has low-energy days. However, if you feel tired every day for more than a month, or experience shortness of breath when you didn’t before, see a doctor, says Dr. Wender. Leukemia and lymphoma commonly cause persistent fatigue. “Most of the time it won’t be cancer, but get it checked because you never know,” he says.

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Chronic headaches

If you’re not prone to migraines and never get headaches, but suddenly find yourself popping pain medicine all the time, it could be a sign of a brain tumor, which causes pain by pressing on nerves.

Next up, learn the 15 things cancer doctors do to avoid cancer.