November each year is set aside to support men with cancer and support male cancer research. The tradition that has developed is that men all over the country will grow a Moustache during the month of November to raise awareness, show solidarity with men with cancer and to get sponsorship for male cancer charities of which there are many. This is a good time therefore to look at men’s health issues.<span> </span>
Men over 50 take note!
Recent evidence suggests that men over the age of 50 are very poor at recognising symptoms which are worrying and may be a sign of serious underlying health problems. It has been acknowledged for many years that men are not good at sharing health problems with family members, peers or health professionals so this new finding is worrying for those of us concerned for the health of our patients and loved ones.
Many health issues do present themselves at an early stage, and often curable cancers and other serious illness may present themselves at a time when they can and should be cured. For this reason I would implore men, and especially men over the age of 50 years, to be on guard and look for signs and symptoms of problems that may be lurking.
Some very simple rules that can be applied could save your life!
- The first is to get to know your own body, and that involves looking at, and feeling all over your body on an occasional, but regular basis.
- Then monitor any things that might change, but not for too long.
- The third is to present to your family doctor if you find something unusual, or something that has changed for no reason…even your weight!
Look for unusual changes in your skin, especially in skin lesions like moles or spots that just won’t go away and may bleed. Changes might be in the size or shape of the lesion, the surface (eg raised moles that used to be flat) the colour or if they start to feel itchy or painful or bleed. It is a strange fact, but unfortunately true, that Northern Irish men have an unusually high level of melanoma skin cancers. Even more strange was that a recent study suggested that these appear more commonly on the left side of Irish men’s bodies! We don’t know why this is. Melanoma skin lesions are more likely ( but not exclusively) to appear on sun exposed areas, so remember the nose, the ears, the face the back and the arms should be checked – and the top of a bald head that you cannot see. These are all areas that Irish fellas are happy to expose, and are areas where skin cancers can present, so remember that when you find something and remember that some skin cancers are totally curable!
Testicular cancers are easy to find. The testicles are easily examined, and any changes in size or shape or hardness should be reported. Any lumps in the testicle or around the testicle should be reported, and it is actually more worrying if a testicular lump or swelling is NOT painful as that could mean that the swelling is indicating an underlying cancer. Painful swelling in testicles or discomfort are generally more likely to be for a non-malignant reason. These changes may need treatment too, so please do bring to the attention of your family doctor a painful testicle even if it is not swollen or misshapen. Testicular cancer is very curable, especially the earlier that it presents, so don’t ignore any changes in testicles. Testicular infections are similarly curable. Other Testicular lumps may resolve spontaneously but some may require a minor operation to remove them.
- Around 2,300 men in the UK were diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2010
- In the UK in 2010 around 70 men died from testicular cancer.
- The incidence of testicular cancer varies across the globe from as low as 1 man in 100,000 in many African nations to a high as 20 men in 100,000 in parts of Europe.
- Current incident rates in the UK show that 7.5 men in every 100,000 will get testicular cancer
- African and Asian men appear to have a much lower incidence of testicular cancer
- According to recent research overall 96% of men diagnosed with any stage testicular cancer will be cured.
Any changes in bowel pattern should be noted and reported. All of us will get the odd stomach or bowel upset causing diarrhoea and other things may cause us to be constipated, but in the absence of other symptoms of illness, a change in bowel pattern from YOUR normal bowel action eg diarrhoea or constipation may herald bowel cancer. Symptoms of unusual discharge from the back passage or bleeding should also be reported. There are many other bowel conditions, which are treatable, and which cause alteration in bowel habit and even bleeding, like Irritable bowel syndrome, but please don’t make this diagnosis yourself. Please ask your family doctor to assess this change in bowel habit.
Changes in urinary function are common in the over 50s. Many men are aware that they have a prostate gland but have absolutely no idea what it does or even where exactly it is. The rule of thumb here is again all about reporting any changes in urinary pattern. Please report to your GP if you are getting up a lot through the night to urinate, passing urine a lot more frequently through the day time, becoming unable to get the flow of urine started, having pain or discomfort when you pass urine, having incontinence, especially after you think that you have totally emptied your bladder, and of course if you pass any blood in the urine. Prostate glands enlarge as men get older, and as the size increases, the function of the urinary tract decreases. The above changes or symptoms are usually a sign of normal benign enlargement of the prostate but sometimes are a sign of prostate cancer. Bladders can also develop cancerous growths, so report any changes in the waterworks to your family GP even if it is a little embarrassing and may lead to an embarrassing examination being done. It may save your life.
- One in eight men in the UK will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime
- The average age for men to be diagnosed with prostate cancer is between 70 and 74 years
- More than 100 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every day
There are other things that may present in men, but the things I have mentioned above are common and easily recognised symptoms and signs that should not be ignored.
The final rule of thumb is that if you are in doubt about any new symptom or worrying sign, please don’t wait. Go and see your family doctor.
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