|This is archive material from the MHF's malehealth.co.uk website which is now part of this site in the section Male Health. This page remains on the site as site traffic suggests visitors find this page useful but it may not be up to date and links may not work. It was last updated in 2005 and so does not conform to the NHS England Information Standard of which the MHF is a member. The material is currently being updated and a link will be posted here in due course.
What is it?
Cancer develops when one or more cells in the body begin to divide abnormally. Usually cells only divide to replace those that have died, but sometimes something goes wrong and a single cell multiplies into a lump or tumour. Not all of these lumps are particularly dangerous. Many are benign and will not spread any further.
But some are malignant — this means they have the potential to spread throughout the body damaging tissues and bone, blocking passageways, and destroying nerves. These are the tumours referred to as cancers.
What are the main symptoms?
The symptoms vary from cancer to cancer but these are some of the more general ones:
- Unusual growths or lumps
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- A sore or ulcer that will not heal
- Nagging cough or hoarseness
- Coughing up blood
- A mole that bleeds or changes shape
- Unexplained changes in bowel or bladder habits
- Unusual discharges
- Blood or brown "coffee grounds" in vomit or stools
- Recurrent pain in any part of the body
What's the risk?
One in three people will get cancer at some time in their lives, and one in four will die from the disease.
There are over 260,000 new cancer cases each year, of which just over half affect men.
The Government's Office of National Statistics publishes odds for specific cancers. The odds for men for the three most common are:
- 12-1 Lung cancer (55-1 before age 65) — an average of 24.029 new cases in the UK between 1998 and 2000.
- 13-1 Prostate cancer (111-1 before age 65) — an average of 25,070 new cases in the UK between 1998 and 2000.
- 18-1 Colorectal or bowel cancer (71-1 before age 65) — an average of 18,583 new cases in the UK between 1998 and 2000.
Some of these individual odds look pretty long, but in combination they add up. Your risk of developing any cancer at some time is in fact as low as 5-2. Moreover, lifestyle factors such as smoking can make your personal odds on getting cancer even shorter.
Calculate your cancer risk
There are three cancers that affect men only:
- Prostate cancer — after lung cancer, the second biggest cancer killer of men (9,470 deaths in 1995). Click here for more information about prostate cancer.
- Testicular cancer — although the most common cancer among younger men, it's still pretty rare (around 1,400 new cases a year). Click here for more information about testicular cancer.
- Penile cancer — this is very rare.Click here for more information about penile cancer.
What causes it?
Most cancers are probably caused by a combination of a genetic susceptibility and a cancer-causing trigger.
The major causes of cancer are:
- Smoking — the biggest single cause by far. It's implicated in a third of all cancer deaths and nine out of ten cases of lung cancer.
- Drinking — some cancers, such those of the mouth, throat and liver, are linked to excessive alcohol consumption.
- Poor diet — about a quarter of cancers in the UK are related to what we eat. Eating too much fat (particularly animal fat), too little fibre and not enough vitamins can increase the risk of cancer. Vitamins A, C and E are particularly important — these are antioxidants, substances which help neutralise cell-damaging molecules known as free radicals.
- Being overweight — one American study found that people who are obese have a 33% greater risk of cancer.
- The sun — a natural source of radiation and the major cause of the most common cancer, skin cancer.
- Chemicals — pesticides and fungicides are in the dock over some cancers, radon gas and phthalates (found in plastic food containers and cling film as well as in vinyl floor tiles and carpet tiles) over others. Pollutants like benzene and invisible particulates in the air are also carcinogenic, although the exact link between pollution and cancer is unclear.
- Family history — about one in three cancer patients have a close relative who has had the disease. Cancers that appear to run most often in families include bowel (25% of cases are hereditary), testicular, prostate, skin and breast cancers.
- Age — the risk of cancer increases as you get older. As a rule of thumb, risk doubles for every decade over the age of 25.
How can I prevent it?
There's no sure-fire way to prevent cancer. But there are many ways to reduce your risk of succumbing to it:
- Give up smoking.
- Drink alcohol sensibly.
- Think about diet. It's especially important to eat low-fat foods — no more than 30% of your calories should come from fat and it's particularly important to avoid saturated (animal) fat. Remember, also, to eat high-fibre foods (cereals, fruits and vegetables) and plenty of the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E.
- Avoid obesity.
- Minimise your exposure to environmental risks, including other people's cigarette smoke, and pollutants such as car exhausts, asbestos and many other industrial agents. It's also important to avoid exposing your skin to the summer sun or, failing that, to sunbathe sensibly — this means covering your skin with sunscreen (minimum factor 15).
Click here for the World Cancer Research Fund's six cancer prevention tips.
Should I see a doctor?
Because of the way cancer develops through cell division, the quicker a cancer is found, the more easily it can be treated. In other words, if you have any concerns, or any of the possible symptoms of cancer, see your GP promptly.
The GP will want to know more about your symptoms and your personal and family medical histories, and will probably order one or more common tests for cancer to obtain a definite diagnosis. You may also be referred to an oncologist, medical-speak for a specialist cancer doctor.
The exploratory period can be very stressful and sometimes even a cancer diagnosis can come almost as a relief.
What are the main treatments?
There are several treatments available to treat cancer. Many patients will experience a combination of them.
- Surgery — some 60% of cancer patients have some form of surgery to remove the tumour. Occasionally, as in some cases of skin cancer, simply having the tumour cut out may be sufficient, but generally surgery will be the prelude to some other form of treatment.
- Radiotherapy — this has been used in cancer treatment for 75 years and most patients will have it. It exploits the fact that tumour cells are less able to repair themselves when damaged by X-rays than normal cells, with the result that, hopefully, the tumour tissue will be destroyed by the rays. The problem is that normal cells are not entirely immune — indeed, excess radiation is a cause of cancer — and the radiation dose has to be kept as low as possible and well-targeted to minimise the potential side-effects.
- Chemotherapy — this involves using cytotoxic (or cell-exterminating) drugs to attack cancer cells. Combinations of drugs are administered in customised cocktails either through injection or via a Hickman line, a tube temporarily attached to the patient's chest.
- Hormone therapy — used in hormone-sensitive cancers, including prostate cancer.
- Some doctors also recommend complementary therapies alongside conventional treatments.
How can I help myself?
Find out the facts. Ask your doctor, read information sheets and medical reference books, ring helplines, use the Internet (with caution — there's too much inaccurate information on too many web sites).
- Consider complementary therapies as well as conventional treatments.
- Review your diet. Experts are generally sceptical about diets which claim to cure cancer and you should beware of any that involve an unbalanced diet. However, changing your diet to something more healthy — perhaps by eating less fat, more fruit and more fibre — might make you feel better and could help boost your immune system. Cancer (and its treatment) may also cause nausea and other problems which may affect your diet — including a dry or sore mouth, diarrhoea or constipation. Your doctor can refer you to a nutritionist who can help with these.
- Try to take a positive attitude. Respect your condition, plan around it, but don't let it take over. Cancer — even when you're undergoing gruelling treatment — is only ever part of your life, not all of it.
- Remember that at times you may well feel angry, confused or depressed. That's not surprising. In fact, it's normal. One of the worst things you can do is to try to be a big brave boy. Thinking about death is difficult but in the long term you might even find that having cancer helps you with this struggle.
- Take things one day at a time. Do what you enjoy doing and are able to do. Work if you want to and it's practical. Talk to your employers if you can't. Your clinic should be able to advise you of any welfare benefits or other help available.
- Have a little of what you fancy. Have sex. Have a pint. And have a thought for the people who care about you. They may be having trouble coming to terms with what has happened to you and find it difficult to talk about it. Bring the subject up. It will help you too. Click here for more information about how to cope with ill health.
- Consider counselling. Counselling, whether after diagnosis, during treatment or many years afterwards, can help patients come to terms with the difficult feelings that having a life-threatening disease can create. Your doctor, or a specialist cancer organisation, should be able to help you find a counsellor. Support groups, where you can meet with other people with cancer, are also widely available.
What's the outlook?
Cancer treatment has developed hugely in recent years but public perception is still surprisingly out of date. Cancer is not the inevitable killer it once was. A third of people diagnosed with cancer are still alive five years later — and with some cancers the survival rates are far higher: in testicular cancer, for example, it's over 90%.
Today, cancer is only an inevitable killer if left untreated. Meanwhile, advances in both prevention and treatment continue to improve these figures. The Government has announced that it hopes to reduce cancer deaths by a further fifth in the ten years to 2010. In the future, as the genes implicated in various types of cancer are discovered, it may become possible in some cases for the disease to be detected even before the symptoms appear.
Who else can help?
World Cancer Research Fund
Web site: www.wcrf-uk.org
Tel: 020 7343 4200
The only major UK registered charity dedicated to the prevention of cancer through healthy diets and associated lifestyles. Click here for the WCRF's six steps to avoid cancer and to download its information for men.
Bowel Cancer UK
Web site: www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk
Tel: 020 7381 9711
Guide To Internet Resources for Cancer
This is a comprehensive overview of everything on the net on cancer (and not just children's cancers).
Cancer Research UK
Web site : www.cancerresearchuk.org/
Major research organisation with a very informative website for patients.
Institute of Cancer Research
Web site: www.icr.ac.uk
Tel: 020 7352 8133
Macmillan Cancer Relief
Web site: www.macmillan.org.uk
Tel: 0808 808 2020
Site contains patient information and links to other organisations.
Orchid Cancer Appeal
Web site: www.orchid-cancer.org.uk
Site contains useful information for men with testicular cancer.
Prostate Cancer Charity
Web site: www.prostate-cancer.org.uk
Tel: 0845 300 8383
Prostate Help Association
Web site: www.pha.u-net.com
Prostate Research Campaign UK
Web site: www.prostate-research.org.uk
Beating Bowel Cancer
Web site: www.beatingbowelcancer.org
Tel: 020 8892 5256 or Specialist Nurse Advisory Line: 020 8892 1331
The UK charity for bowel cancer patients, providing information, education and support.
Cancer Black Care
Web site: www.cancerblackcare.org.uk
Tel: 020 8961 4151
Cancer Black Care is the UK's leading cancer support agency for people from the black and minority ethnic communities and beyond.
The Urology Foundation
Web site: www.theurologyfoundation.org
Aims to improve the diagnosis, treatment and management of urological disease through the development and support of medical education and sponsorship of research.
Jim Pollard, editor of malehealth.co.uk. Updated by malehealth for 2005.