Cancer symptoms that affect males can vary depending on the type of cancer. It may be best to talk with a doctor if you have unexplained weight loss, changes in your bowel movements or urination, or lumps in your testicles or breast tissue.

Cancer is among the most common causes of death in adult males in the United States. While a balanced diet can lower the risk of developing certain cancers, other factors such as genes can play a larger role. Once cancer spreads, it can be difficult to treat.

Language matters

We use “men,” “male,” and “women” in this article to reflect the terms that have been historically used to gender people. But your gender identity may not align with how your body responds to this disease. A doctor can better help you understand how your specific circumstances will translate into diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment.

Was this helpful?

Knowing early symptoms can help you get treatment sooner to better your chances of remission. Early symptoms of cancer in men include:

  • bowel changes
  • rectal bleeding
  • urinary changes
  • blood in urine
  • persistent back pain
  • unusual coughing
  • testicular lumps
  • excessive fatigue
  • unexplained weight loss
  • lumps in breast

Continue reading about these symptoms to find out what to look out for and what you should discuss with a doctor or other healthcare professional right away.

1. Bowel changes

The occasional bowel problem is normal, but changes in your bowels may indicate either colon or rectal cancer. These are collectively called colorectal cancers. Colon cancer can develop in any part of your colon, while rectal cancer affects your rectum, which connects the colon to the anus.

Frequent diarrhea and constipation may be symptoms of cancer, particularly if these bowel changes come on suddenly. These problems also may occur with frequent gas and abdominal pain.

A change in the characteristics or size of your bowel movement may also be a symptom of cancer.

2. Skin changes

Moles, or nevi, are benign skin growths. They can appear nearly anywhere on the body, but they’re common on the head, neck, and trunk.

However, if those moles change size, shape, or color, it may be an early sign of skin cancer. Other skin growths may also be potential cancer, so it’s important that you have yearly skin cancer screenings. Catching skin cancer early is the best way to prevent it from spreading in the body.

3. Rectal bleeding

Rectal bleeding may be an early symptom of rectal cancer. This is especially concerning if the bleeding persists or if you’re found to have iron deficiency anemia due to blood loss. You may also notice blood in your stools.

Although there are other more common causes of rectal bleeding, such as hemorrhoids, you shouldn’t try to diagnose your own condition if you’re having these symptoms. Talk with a doctor about your concerns. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force and American Cancer Society recommend that you get regular colon cancer screenings starting at age 45.

4. Swollen lymph nodes

Lymph nodes are bean-shaped glands that are clustered throughout the body, including in the neck, armpits, and groin. They hold white blood cells, which are released to fight infection and disease.

Swollen or tender lymph nodes can be a sign that your body is fighting illness. This illness could be something like a cold or sore throat. But lymph node changes could be a sign of something more serious, such as cancer.

Swollen lymph nodes that don’t return to normal in 3 to 4 weeks should be seen by a doctor or other healthcare professional.

5. Urinary changes

Incontinence and other urinary changes may develop as you age. However, certain symptoms may indicate prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is most common in men ages 60 and older.

Common urinary symptoms include:

  • urinary leaks
  • incontinence
  • an inability to urinate despite urges to go
  • delayed urination
  • straining during urination

The American Cancer Society recommends that men who are at high risk should talk with a doctor about the options for screening for prostate cancer regularly starting at ages 40 to 45.

6. Blood in your urine

If you have blood in your urine, you shouldn’t ignore it. This is a common symptom of bladder cancer. This type of cancer is more common in current and former smokers than in people who’ve never smoked. Inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis), prostate cancer, and urinary tract infections can also cause blood in your urine.

Early prostate cancer can also cause blood in your semen.

7. Difficulty swallowing

Swallowing difficulties can be caused by conditions such as a sore throat or damage to the throat from acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

But difficulty swallowing, also called dysphagia, can also be an early symptom of throat cancer, esophageal cancer, or stomach cancer.

8. Persistent heartburn

Regular heartburn is more than a sign that you need to eat earlier in the evening or change up what’s on your plate. It could be an indication that something is wrong with your stomach or throat.

While heartburn can be caused by foods you eat, such as spicy foods, high-fat foods, or even carbonated drinks, persistent heartburn may be a more concerning symptom. For example, constant irritation can lead to inflammation and irritation in the esophagus. Rarely, this damage can make you more susceptible to throat or esophageal cancer.

9. Persistent back pain

Back pain is a common cause of disability, but few men realize that it may be a symptom of cancer. Symptoms of cancer may not show until it has spread to other parts of your body, such as the bones of your spine. For example, prostate cancer is especially prone to spread to the bones and may cause these symptoms within your hip bones and lower back.

Unlike occasional muscle pain, cancer of the bone causes tenderness and discomfort in your bones.

10. Mouth changes

People who smoke or chew tobacco are at a higher risk of oral cancer. Early symptoms of cancer in the mouth may be easy to overlook, but they should be a signal to be seen by a doctor.

White, red, gray, or yellow patches inside the mouth or on the lips might be a symptom of cancerous changes.

Ulcers or canker sores that persist more than a few weeks or don’t respond to treatment could also be a symptom of cancer in the mouth.

11. Unusual coughing

Coughing isn’t exclusive to smokers or to people with a cold or allergies. A persistent cough is an early symptom of lung cancer. If you don’t have any other related symptoms, such as a stuffy nose or fever, the cough probably isn’t due to a virus or infection.

Coughing accompanied with bloody mucus is also associated with lung cancer in men.

12. Depression

You might not associate depression, or feelings of sadness and loneliness, with a cancer diagnosis, but in rare cases, it might be a sign of the disease. A 2018 report found that a “depression-before-diagnosis relationship” is prevalent among people with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. This is particularly noteworthy, as pancreatic cancer usually causes symptoms only after it has become advanced.

People experiencing new or greater depression, along with symptoms such as stomach or belly pain, fatigue, or nausea, should report the fully array of symptoms to a doctor or other healthcare professional. Physical symptoms might not be the only early signs of cancer.

13. Testicular lumps

Testicular cancers in men are less common than cancers of the prostate, lungs, and colon. Still, you shouldn’t ignore early symptoms. Lumps in the testicles are symptoms of testicular cancer.

Doctors look for these lumps during wellness checks. For earliest detection, you should check for lumps once per month.

14. Excessive fatigue

Fatigue can be related to a number of chronic illnesses and medical conditions. Excessive fatigue is your body’s way of telling you that something just isn’t right. As cancer cells grow and reproduce, your body may start to feel run down.

Fatigue is a common symptom of various cancers. See a doctor or other healthcare professional if you have excessive tiredness that doesn’t go away after a good night’s sleep.

15. Fever

Fever is usually a sign your body is fighting an infection. It will go away with treatment in most cases.

But if treatment isn’t working, or a fever persists without an explanation, it could be a sign of leukemia, lymphoma, or another blood cancer.

Likewise, if a person with cancer has a persistent fever, it could be a sign that cancer is spreading.

16. Unexplained weight loss

It becomes more difficult to maintain a moderate weight as you age, so you might consider weight loss as a positive thing. But sudden and unexplained weight loss can indicate a serious health problem, including almost any type of cancer.

If you rapidly lose weight without changing your diet or how much you exercise, discuss this with a doctor or other healthcare professional.

17. Lumps in the breast

Breast cancer isn’t exclusive to women. Men also need to be on guard and check for suspicious lumps in the breast area. This is the earliest detectable symptom of male breast cancer. Call a doctor immediately for testing if you notice a lump.

Genes can play a role in male breast cancer, but this type of cancer may also occur due to exposure to radiation or high estrogen levels. Breast lumps are most commonly found in men in their 60s.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in men. (Prostate cancer is the most common.) But most early symptoms of lung cancer are overlooked until they’re interfering with daily life.

An early diagnosis is important for treatment. The earlier you can begin treatment, the more likely treatment is to be successful. That’s why recognizing the early symptoms of lung cancer in men is important.

These symptoms include:

  • coughing up bloody sputum, spit, or phlegm
  • chest pain that may be worse when breathing deep, laughing, or coughing
  • a cough that persists for several weeks with no obvious cause
  • shortness of breath or wheezing even without exertion
  • hoarseness
  • unexplained weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • unexplained fatigue
  • persistent infections (bronchitis and pneumonia)

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men, but many early symptoms of colon cancer are overlooked as common digestive issues.

Symptoms of colon cancer in men include:

  • losing weight without trying
  • greater weakness and fatigue
  • feeling you need to have a bowel movement but not being able to or not feeling relieved after having one
  • changes in bowel habits, including frequent diarrhea or constipation
  • narrow stools
  • bright red blood on stool
  • dark brown or black stool (a sign of blood in stool)
  • cramping or belly pain
  • regular bloating

Many cancers in men cause subtle symptoms. It’s only when the cancer has grown or spread that other symptoms start to signal potential issues. These symptoms of advanced cancer in men may include:

Many cancers are difficult to detect in the earliest stages, but some may cause noticeable differences. Knowing the most common cancer symptoms is vital to obtaining a prompt diagnosis. Still, the exact signs and symptoms of cancer can vary. As a rule of thumb, you should always see a doctor or other healthcare professional if you suspect something isn’t right.