Health-risks that affect men

In this article I want to look at some of the most common cancers that affect men; not to scare anybody, but to bring awareness.

  • Breast cancer

In men, breast cancer cells’ form and grow within the breast tissue.  Although it is uncommon, 1% of men can develop this type of cancer (according to Doctor Ramiah, a specialist oncologist).

The risk factors include:  hormone treatments (e.g. taking anabolic steroids), alcohol consumption, being overweight, lack of exercise, liver disease, family history of breast cancer (not definitely but can play a role), being exposed to environmental hormones (e.g. pesticides, hormones in meat), previous radiation (especially to the chest as a child), and genes (the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene).

Symptoms to look out for:  a lump in the breast, nipple discharge, nipple pain, an inverted nipple, and/or a swollen gland under the arm (in or next to the armpit).  According to Doctor Ramiah, swelling on both sides is usually due to gynaecomastia (male breast enlargement caused by a disease or medication).  Best if you speak to your health practitioner about it.

  • Lung cancer

This is caused by abnormal growths (cells) within one or both lungs.  These cells can damage the lungs, block the airways that are needed to bring air into the lungs, and can spread to other parts of the body.

The biggest risk factor by far is tobacco smoke, vaping and e-cigarettes, as well as second hand smoke.

Symptoms to look out for:  a persistent cough, chest pain, coughing up sputum (especially discoloured or with blood in), recurring chest infections, shortness of breath (even when walking a short distance), wheezing, struggling to inhale deeply, changes in your voice, and unexplained weight loss. 

  • Prostate cancer

This is the most common cancer in men worldwide and starts in the prostate (which is the organ lying just below the urinary bladder).

Risk factors include:  ageing, ethnicity (interestingly black men have a slightly higher chance, according to research, than white men), family history of prostate cancer, and certain genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2).

Symptoms to look out for:  frequent urination, a blockage / obstruction of the urine stream / a weak stream, difficulty initiating urination, straining to empty the bladder, pain or burning when urinating, blood in the seminal fluid, and back or bone pain, unexplained weight loss and swelling of the legs (the latter symptoms are usually an indication that the prostate cancer has spread).

  • Colorectal cancer

This type of cancer can either start in the colon or rectum.  Luckily if this is caught in the early stages, it can be cured (according to Doctor Ramiah).

Risk factors include:  family history of polyps or colon cancer, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, Lynch syndrome or FAP (familial adenomatous polyposis, a high-fat, low-fibre diet, and smoking.

Symptoms to look out for:  a change in bowel habits, blood in the stool, persistent abdominal discomfort, and fatigue, weakness, nausea, vomiting and unexplained weight loss.

  • Gastric cancer

This cancer develops in the lining cells of the stomach.

Risk factors:  Helicobacter pylori infection, smoking, Pernicious anaemia, inherited cancer syndromes (e.g. FAP), Type A-blood group, and family history.

Symptoms to look out for:  decreased appetite, unexplained weight loss, abdominal discomfort and/or pain, heartburn, nausea, vomiting (with / without blood), and anaemia.

  • Liver cancer

This starts in the liver (unlike other types of cancer that starts somewhere else in the body and then spreads to the liver).

Risk factors include:  chronic infection due to the hepatitis B- or hepatitis C-virus, cirrhosis of the liver, Type-2 diabetes, Aflatoxins, high levels of alcohol-consumption (including binge drinking), and the use of anabolic steroids.

Symptoms to look out for:  pain in the top right of the abdomen, unexplained weight loss, fatigue and/or weakness, and possible jaundice.

  • Testicular cancer

These tumours start in the testes; usually in the germ cells (cells which produce immature sperm) and become cancerous.  It is not known why it becomes cancerous, but it is highly treatable.

Risk factors include:  family history, ethnicity (slightly more common in white men), and an undescended testicle.

Symptoms to look out for:  a painless lump / swelling of the testicle, pain in the testicle (with / without a lump), change in the feel of the testicle, lower abdominal pain, and the build-up of fluid in the scrotum.

  • Skin cancer

This is quite a common cancer, especially if you spend a lot of time in the sun or on a sunbed.  It is important to check your moles regularly and, if there is any change in colour or size, to seek medical help straightaway.  The same applies for skin pigmentation.  Best advice is to stay out of the sun between 11 am and 2 pm.  If you do need to be in the sun during that time, wear a hat and use sunblock.

There are different treatments for the different cancers mentioned above.  Men and boys alike should not feel or be treated differently; especially when it comes to their health.  Whenever you discover / realize that there is a change that you are not comfortable with, speak to your health practitioner or doctor as soon as possible.  It is always best to catch the cancer in its early stage and it is even more crucial to look after your body and your health from an early age.  The sooner you start, the better chance you have of not developing cancer (even if it does run in your family).

As a Nutritionist, my advice is simple:  look after your health from a young age.  When there is peer pressure that tries to get you to start smoking, to drink excessively and/or to use anabolic steroids, be different, stay strong and say no.  I know it is easier said than done – but why be like everybody else?  Numerous studies have shown that cigarette smoke, for example, kills certain cells in the lungs and the brain for good! 

Another thing to start early is exercising and eating healthy, balanced meals.  As you have read, eating more of the one food group than others and/or leaving one group out completely, might bring short-term results, but in the long-term, it is not balanced and sustainable.  Just like our bodies and organs work together as a unit, so too do we need to consume food from all the different food groups (just remember to minimize and/or eliminate processed, junk foods and refined sugars and starches), and as always, drink your water, keep your immune system strong and keep moving!!

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