Overview of Male Cancer

This article presents an overview of cancer in men in the United States.  Several government sponsored healthcare agencies have collected enormous amounts of data about cancer statistics.  These statistics are important because they identify common cancers and also identify populations of people that have an increased risk for a certain type of cancer.  This general field of studying disease in populations of people is called epidemiology.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Program of Cancer Registries (NPCR), the most common cancers in the United States are as follows:

The top 10 most common cancers diagnosed in men in the United States from 2003-2007          

This data is the overall statistics and an average for all men in the United States.  These percentages are different if specific sub-populations are looked at such as all men age 20-30 or African-American men over the age of 65.  Fortunately, the overall trends are similar among many groups of men and help guide the recommendations for screening guidelines.

The most common causes of death from cancer in men in the United States are:

The top 10 most common causes of death from cancer in men in the United States from 2003-2007

Despite the many different types of cancers, there are common “red flag” symptoms that all men should be aware of that might signify cancer.  The presence of these symptoms does not diagnose or indicate a cancer is present but should prompt further investigation by your doctor.  If you have any of these symptoms you should tell your doctor about them.  These “red flag” symptoms of possible cancer in men include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Any blood passed with bowel movement or from the rectum
  • Difficulty urinating and or blood in the urine
  • Unexplained pain in the stomach or chest that does not go away
  • Yellow or orange discoloration of the skin (i.e. jaundice)
  • A new “lump” or bump found on the body
  • A change in a skin mole or spot
  • Persistent cough or bloody cough

These eight “red flag” symptoms will be found in some combination with the commonest of cancers experienced by men.  If any of these are present alone or in combination they should be brought to the attention of your doctor for further investigation.

The following is an abbreviated list of the commonest cancers in men and information about common symptoms and screening of each.

Lung Cancer: There is not a great screening test for lung cancer like there is for breast or colon cancer.  The most effective way to treat lung cancer is to prevent it.  The most common cause and modifiable risk factor associated with lung cancer is overwhelmingly cigarette smoking.  Smoking cessation is perhaps the single biggest way to improve health of the average American and the most important way to reduce the burden of disease and cost of healthcare.  Smoking negatively affects every bodily organ including the purse.  It remains the most common cause of death from cancer in men and women.  It is the second most common cancer diagnosed in men.  The symptoms of lung cancer can be rather vague but include weight loss, cough, bloody cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain.  The testing of lung cancer involves chest x-ray, CAT scan of the chest and often invasive testing such as bronchoscopy or biopsy.

Prostate Cancer: This is the most common cancer diagnosed in men.  It is often said that more men will die WITH prostate cancer than FROM it.  This is because it is very common in elderly men.  There can be significant problems that arise from prostate cancer such as blockage of the bladder, damage to kidneys, metastases to bone and elsewhere in the body.  Symptoms of prostate cancer are non-specific but might include difficulty with urination, pelvic pain or even unexplained bone fractures.  Screening generally begins at 50 with prostate specific antigen testing (PSA).  Additionally, prostate examination is a part of general assessment of a man’s health.

Colon and Rectal CancerColorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer diagnosed in men and the third most common cause of death from cancer in men.  Fortunately, there are many very effective treatments for colorectal cancer if it is detected early.  This is the rationale behind the mass screening guidelines in place.  In the average risk person without symptoms screening should begin at the age of 50 with a colonoscopy at least every ten years and annual fecal occult blood testing.  Symptoms of colon or rectal cancer can be vague but any passage of blood from the rectum is considered a red flag symptom and should prompt further investigation.  Other symptoms include weight loss, abdominal pain, and changes in bowel habits such as constipation, straining, and very thin caliber stools.

Bladder Cancer:  The fourth most common cancer diagnosed in men is bladder cancer and it is the ninth most common cause of cancer death among men in the United States.  Bladder cancer causes symptoms of blood in the urine and blockage of the bladder outflow or kidneys.  There are many risk factors for bladder cancer but cigarette smoking is the most common modifiable risk factor.

Pancreatic Cancer: Cancer of the pancreas is the fourth most common cause of death from cancer among men in the United States.  Symptoms of pancreatic cancer can vary based upon the location of the cancer the type of pancreatic cancer.  Unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, jaundice, and vomiting might all occur with pancreatic cancer.  Unfortunately there is no screening test for cancer of the pancreas and many are found only after they have been present for some time and have already spread to another part of the body.  If caught early enough, cancer of the pancreas is potentially curable.  If any of these symptoms occur they should be brought to the attention of your doctor for further attention which will usually include blood work for liver functions, measurement of pancreatic enzymes or tumor marker and some type of imaging study such as a CAT scan of the abdomen.  The single biggest avoidable risk factor for cancer of the pancreas is cigarette smoking.  Have you noticed a pattern?


  1. apps.nccd.cdc.gov/uscs/toptencancers.aspx#All
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  4. This article was originally published on September 3, 2012 and last revision and update was 9/4/2015.