Men and Cancer – Male Cancer Awareness Month June 2018

06 June 2018

Did you know that men go to the doctors half as often as women do?

Or that men are more likely to get cancer, and more likely die from it, than women?

Men in Yorkshire are also more likely to get cancer, and die from it, than men in England as a whole.

These are worrying facts.

There are ways that men can reduce their risk of cancer, such as exercising more, eating a healthy diet and not smoking.

But it’s clear that more needs to be done to ensure men feel comfortable talking about their health, and that they contact their GP as soon as possible if they notice any unusual changes to their body.

gender differences in cancer diagnosis

What cancers are men more likely to get?

There are three types of cancer that just occur in men. These are:

  • Prostate cancer
  • Testicular cancer
  • Penile cancer

Prostate cancer is by far the most common cancer in men. In 2015, 40,310 men in England were diagnosed with the disease, and 3,642 of these men were living in Yorkshire.

Thankfully, testicular and penile cancers are very rare. These cancers are so rare that there is no data available for the number of men diagnosed in Yorkshire, however we do know that in England in 2015, 1,933 men were diagnosed with testicular cancer and 520 men were diagnosed with penile cancer.

There are also cancers that men are much more likely to get, and more likely to die from, than women. These include: 

  • Bowel cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Oesophageal cancer
  • Stomach cancer

cancer cases per 100000 people in Yorkshire 2015

Men are also slightly more likely to get lung cancer than women. This is mainly due to a history of higher smoking levels among the male population. 15 years ago men were much more likely to get lung cancer than women, but this has gradually changed. The proportion of men getting lung cancer has steadily decreased, while the proportion of women developing the disease has steadily increased.

lung cancer cases per 100000 people in Yorkshire 2001-2015

What should men be looking out for?

If you notice any changes to your body that aren’t normal for you, it’s important to get checked out by your doctor. The chances are it won’t be anything serious. However, if it is cancer, then having it diagnosed earlier often means it can be treated more successfully.

It’s worth remembering that your doctor is used to having conversations with patients about different parts of the body. Please don’t be embarrassed – it could cost your life.

You will not be wasting your doctor’s time. Early diagnosis saves lives.

Common symptoms can include:

common cancer symptoms in males

What about screening?

There is one national screening programme that includes men, and this looks for early signs of bowel cancer.

Men and women are sent a home screening kit, known as the ‘faecal occult blood’ (FOB) test, when they turn 60, and then every two years until the age of 74.

The test looks for small amounts of blood in the poo which can be a sign of cancer. If the screening result is positive further tests will look for cancer, or small growths in the bowel which if left untreated could develop into cancer in the future.

People diagnosed with bowel cancer through screening have a 93% chance of surviving for at least three years after diagnosis, compared to 68% if they are referred to hospital through their GP after experiencing symptoms.

Despite this, participation in bowel screening is very low. Men are less likely to complete their bowel screening than women – just 55% of men take part, compared to 60% of women.

Improved methods of bowel screening are in the pipeline, but until they are introduced we would urge all men (and women) to return their screening kit when they receive it.

Why isn’t there a screening programme for prostate cancer?

With so many men diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, it’s fair to wonder why there isn’t a screening programme for the disease.

Men who are worried about prostate cancer can ask their doctor for a PSA test. This is a blood test that measures the levels of a protein called ‘prostate-specific antigen’ (PSA).

PSA is made in the prostate gland, and some will leak into the blood. If the blood test shows that the PSA level in the blood is high, then further tests may be needed, such as a biopsy. A biopsy involves taking small samples of the prostate and checking them for cancer.

Currently, there isn’t any evidence to say screening using the PSA test would save lives. Indeed, it can lead to many men being diagnosed with a cancer that may never have caused symptoms and would never have needed treatment. This is called over diagnosis.

Before a national screening programme for prostate cancer can be introduced, a more reliable test must be found, and until then, men must be aware of the symptoms of the disease and see their doctor if they are worried.

You can read more about the pros and cons of the PSA test here.

The Future

Yorkshire Cancer Research is dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyles and increasing the early detection of cancer in Yorkshire by funding research and community health programmes.

Our Wise Up To Cancer programme, carried out in community, pharmacy and GP settings, aims to:

  • Lower cancer risk by promoting healthy lifestyles
  • Spot cancer early by encouraging people to take part in their cancer screening and look out for cancer signs and symptoms

Our ABACUS research project is also carrying out health checks in deprived communities in Yorkshire to see if an interactive online questionnaire can increase early diagnosis.

Since lung cancer is a huge problem in our region, we are running a campaign to encourage people to switch from smoking to vaping. Our Vape to Quit campaign is backing evidence from Public Health England stating that e-cigarettes are at least 95% safer than smoking.

In September, we will launch the UK’s only, and the world’s third largest, lung screening trial, which will test lung screening carried out in mobile vans located in communities in Leeds. At the same time, we will launch a major lung cancer campaign in Hull, which will aim to improve knowledge of symptoms among the general public.

We’re also funding research to understand how we can improve the early diagnosis of bowel cancer – from testing new methods to increase screening participation in Bradford to identifying why people in rural areasof North Yorkshire are diagnosed with the disease at a late stage.

By reaching out to men in their local communities, we hope to raise awareness of cancer and how we can all play a part in improving outcomes.

If we can increase early diagnosis, we can save lives across Yorkshire – and the first step is being able to talk about cancer, knowing what’s not normal for us and being confident enough to seek help if we’re worried.


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