Prostate, testicular and penile cancer – the symptoms and treatments

Here's what you need to know about three cancers that only affect men.

Prostate Cancer UK said the number of men dying from prostate cancer every year has overtaken the number of women dying from breast cancer, with 11,819 men now dying from prostate cancer in the UK every year – the equivalent of one man every 45 minutes.

But what is prostate cancer, and what are the symptoms? We explain the signs and symptoms along with two other male cancers…

Testicular cancer

Over 2,200 men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer in the UK each year. It most commonly affects men between the ages of 15 and 45 and is statistically the most common cancer in men aged between 25 and 49 in the UK (Cancer Research UK).

What to look out for

Men should perform testicular self-examination at least monthly.

Possible symptoms include:

• A small pea-sized lump can be felt in around 90% of cases and in over 80% of cases this will be painless.
• Dragging sensation, ache or pain (more common in non-cancerous conditions)
• Breast swelling or tenderness (called gynaecomastia). This is rare but may be caused by hormones which are produced by some types of testicular cancer. Similar symptoms can be caused simply by body changes during puberty.
• Back pain caused by enlarged lymph nodes in the back.

Getting treatment

Anything unusual, such as a lump or swelling in the testicles, should promptly be checked by a GP. “Testicular cancer’s very treatable, and in most cases curable,” says Orchid’s Rob Cornes, a male cancer nurse.

“Treatment usually involves removing the affected testicle, but providing the other testicle’s healthy, fertility shouldn’t be affected. Chemotherapy may be needed in some cases, which can cause temporary infertility, but men are always given the chance to store sperm before treatment, which if needed, can be used at a later date.

Penile cancer

Cancer of the penis is very rare in the western world – there are only around 650 cases in the UK each year. Although most often diagnosed in men over 60, research has suggested that 25% of cases in the UK occur in males younger than 50. It’s usually a slow-growing cancer and, if caught early, chances of survival are high. Around 75% of men diagnosed with penile cancer will survive the disease.

What to look out for

Cancer can develop anywhere in the penis, but the most common places are under the foreskin and on the glans. Possible symptoms include:

• A growth or ulcer on the penis, especially on the glans or foreskin.
• Changes in the colour or skin thickening on the penis.
• Persistent discharge with foul odour beneath the foreskin.
• Blood coming from the tip of the penis or under the foreskin.
• Unexplained pain in the shaft or tip of the penis.
• Irregular or growing bluish-brown flat lesions or marks beneath the foreskin or on the body of the penis.
• Reddish, velvety rash or small, crusty lumps beneath the foreskin.
• Irregular swelling at the end of the penis.

Getting treatment

In the majority of cases non-cancerous conditions of the penis will be the cause of the symptoms. Unfortunately most men tend to ignore potential penile cancer symptoms for some time, which leads to a delay in diagnosis. If someone has any of these symptoms, they should make an appointment to see the GP and if necessary they will be referred to an urologist.

Prostate cancer

In most cases, the growth is slow and with few symptoms, and for that reason, prostate cancer can go undetected for many years. It mainly affects men over 60 (the most common age for a man to be diagnosed is in his mid-70s) but more than 1,000 men under the age of 55 years are diagnosed each year in the UK. Up to 10% of these early-onset cases of prostate cancer are thought to be caused by inherited forms of the condition.

What to look out for

Problems with the prostate are common, particularly as men get older and they may not necessarily be caused by cancer.
• Possible symptoms include:
• Slow or weak flow of urine
• Urinating more frequently or urgently than usual
• Difficulty starting to urinate
• Pain or burning sensation when urinating
• Unexplained urinary infection
• Difficulty getting or maintaining an erection or pain during ejaculation
• Impotence
• Constipation, altered bowel habit

Getting treatment

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms and are worried that they could be related to prostate cancer, make an appointment with your GP. “Men should see their GP to discuss symptoms thoroughly,” adds Cornes.

“It could be that further examinations are needed. And if it is a benign enlargement, treatments can help.”

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