Top 10 Cancers Causing Death in Men
June 1, 2021
It’s estimated that 323,630 men in the U.S. died from cancer in 2018. Not including non-melanoma skin cancer, the combination of lung cancer, prostate cancer, and colorectal cancer accounts for nearly half of these deaths.
Cancer mortality is higher among men than it is among women. Based on statistics from 2011-2015, the rate of cancer death was 196.8 per 100,000 men and 139.6 per 100,000 women.
Overall, 38.4 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime (excluding skin cancer.)
Thankfully, survival rates overall are improving, even for some difficult-to-treat cancers, and more people are living beyond cancer.
From 2012 to 2016, cancer death rates decreased by 1.8 percent among men, although for some specific cancers there was an increase. Better treatments, as well as early detection (especially for colon cancer), are saving lives.
The best cure, however, is prevention. It’s not always hard and it’s not always obvious.
For example, exposure to radon gas in the home is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. This cause is completely preventable, but first, you have to know if you have a problem.
Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in men, causing more deaths than the next three leading causes—prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, and pancreatic cancer—combined.
Lung cancer was expected to be responsible for 76,650 deaths in men in 2019.
Symptoms of lung cancer in men may include a persistent cough, coughing up blood, hoarseness, and shortness of breath among others.
Risk factors for lung cancer include smoking, but there are other important risk factors as well.
For example, 21,000 people are expected to die from radon-induced lung cancer this year. To get a grasp of this number, consider that roughly 40,000 women are expected to die from breast cancer.
Radon has been found in all 50 states, in new and old homes, and though some regions of the country are more likely to have elevated radon in the home, the only way to know you are safe is to do radon testing
A $10 kit from the hardware store, followed by radon mitigation if needed, can eliminate this risk to you and your family.
Thankfully, after many years of little change in the survival rate for lung cancer, survival is improving, and new treatments are making a difference.
To make sure you're getting the best treatment possible, strongly consider a second opinion, preferably at a cancer center that sees a large volume of people with lung cancer, and get involved with the wonderful online lung cancer support communities available.
Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in men in the United States, expected to be responsible for 31,620 deaths in 2019.
The difference lies in the survival rates of the two diseases. Whereas the overall five-year survival rate for prostate cancer approaches 99%, that of lung cancer lingers around 16% to 17%.
While most men are diagnosed before they have symptoms, symptoms of prostate cancer may include:
- Urinary frequency (needing to urinate more often)
- Urinary hesitancy (needing some time to begin urinating)
- Nocturia (needing to urinate at night)
- Blood in urine or semen
- Bone pain from prostate cancer that's spread to bones
Having a family history of prostate cancer increases your risk of developing the disease.
Diagnosing and staging prostate cancer often begins with an annual digital rectal exam and a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test.
The combination of colon cancer and rectal cancer is the third leading cancer killer in men.
Yet unlike the limited screening available for lung cancer, and the controversies in screening associated with prostate cancer, colon cancer screening for the general population can clearly save lives.
Screening for colon cancer, unlike some other screening tests in men, accomplishes two purposes:
- Primary prevention of colon cancer
- Early detection, when it's in the earliest and most treatable stages
To understand this, it is helpful to know that many colon cancers arise in polyps. Adenomatous polyps can progress from a pre-cancerous stage to a cancerous tumor, and this process may take up to 10 or 20 years.
Removing polyps that may progress to cancer may prevent cancer's development. Tests such as colonoscopy may also detect early cancers in the colon, which can then be removed before they grow and spread to surrounding organs and beyond.
Most people are advised to begin colon cancer screening at age 50 (45 for African Americans,) unless they have a family history. Depending on family history and colon-related medical conditions, colon screening may be started at a much younger age.
If you are among the many who cringe at the thought of tests such as a colonoscopy, it may help to weigh this procedure and contrast it to the treatment of cancer that has become established.
Even with screening (and before you reach the age at which screening is recommended for you), it is important to have an awareness of the warning signs and symptoms of colon cancer. These symptoms may include:
- Change in bowel movements (any kind of change)
- Blood in your stools (red or dark)
- Pencil-thin stools
- Lower abdominal discomfort
As with lung cancer, new treatments for the advanced stages of colon cancer are making a difference for some people living with this disease.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most fatal cancer in men. While the incidence of colon cancer is much lower than that of prostate or even colon cancer, the survival rate remains poor.
The overall five-year survival rate for the earliest stage of the disease (stage 1A) is 14%. Survival for stage IV disease (the stage at which most people are diagnosed) is only 1%.
Risk factors include:
- Jewish ethnicity
- Chronic pancreatitis
Pancreatic cancer can run in families. There's an increased risk in people carrying the BRCA2 "breast cancer gene" mutations. While there's no screening test for the general population, screening may be recommended for some people with a genetic predisposition.
This is one reason sharing a careful family medical history with your doctor is important. A number of individualized imaging studies may be considered for early detection in people at risk for pancreatic cancer, as well as blood tests for tumor markers such as CA 19-9 and CEA.
A somewhat surprising risk factor that has recently surfaced is a link between gum disease and pancreatic cancer.
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer are often non-specific (caused by many conditions) and may include:
- Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
An unexpected diagnosis of diabetes may also be a warning sign as a tumor in the pancreas may interfere with the production of insulin.
Though pancreatic cancer has the reputation of being extremely aggressive and rapidly fatal once diagnosed, recent advances in medicine offer hope that this reputation will be challenged in the near future.
Liver and Intrahepatic Bile Duct
Cancers of the liver and bile duct are the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men in the U.S.
It's important to distinguish "liver cancer" from "metastases to the liver," as many people who speak of liver cancer are actually referring to cancer that has spread to the liver from other regions of the body.
If a cancer originates in the liver, it's called "primary liver cancer." If a cancer originates in another organ, it's called cancer of that organ metastatic to the liver, such as lung cancer metastatic to the liver.
Many common cancers in men—including lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, and colon cancer—may spread to the liver.
Risk factors for liver cancer include:
- History of excessive alcohol intake
- Chronic hepatitis B infection
- Hepatitis C infection,
- Hereditary syndrome known as hemochromatosis
- Aflatoxin exposure (Aflatoxin is a mold sometimes found in peanuts, corn, or animals fed with feed containing the mold. It's more commonly found in less developed regions.)
Symptoms of liver cancer are similar to those of pancreatic cancer and may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
There is not currently a general screening test available for liver cancer, though screening may be recommended for some people at risk, such as people with chronic hepatitis B infection or cirrhosis.
Leukemia is not one disease but includes:
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)
- Other forms
As it's a blood-related cancer, symptoms are not usually located in one region like other cancers' symptoms may be. In addition, symptoms of leukemia often overlap with many other conditions and may include:
- Feeling weak
- Easy bruising
- Bone and joint pain
- Frequent infections
The causes of leukemia vary depending upon the type but can vary broadly from environmental exposures to a genetic predisposition, such as with Down's syndrome.
The treatment of CML has greatly improved. Until 2001, CML was considered a slow-growing (at first) but nearly universally fatal cancer.
Since that time, Gleevec (imatinib) and second-generation medications have resulted in long-term control of the disease for many people who demonstrate an early and sustained molecular response to Gleevec.
The excellent response to Gleevec in CML is a proof of principle that in some malignancies, long-term responses can be achieved without eradicating the disease.
Despite an inability to "cure" some cancers, it is hoped that many cancers will eventually be able to be managed as a chronic disease, such as we manage diabetes.
Esophageal cancer is the seventh most fatal cancer in men in the United States.
There are two primary types of cancer of the esophagus:
- Squamous cell carcinoma
These differ by the types of cells in which cancer originates. While in the past squamous cell carcinoma was most common, adenocarcinoma is now the most common form of the disease.
Symptoms of esophageal cancer may include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Painful swallowing
- A feeling of something being stuck in the throat
- Vague symptoms such as hoarseness, unexplained weight loss, or persistent cough
Since these symptoms are common with many other conditions, esophageal cancer is often diagnosed in the later stages of the disease.
Risk factors vary depending on the type of esophageal cancer.
Squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus has been linked to smoking and heavy drinking.
Risk factors for esophageal adenocarcinoma include chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and Barrett's esophagus, which is an inflammatory condition of the esophagus related to GERD called.
There's not a general screening test for esophageal cancer, but there are a few steps of screening available for people at risk.
A history of GERD, especially combined with other symptoms, increases your risk of developing Barrett's esophagus. Having a history of Barrett's esophagus, in turn, increases your risk of esophageal cancer by between 30% and 60%.
The first step toward diagnosis is the evaluation of someone with chronic GERD.
Though medical organizations and cancer centers differ somewhat in the criteria for screening for Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer, the American College of Physicians best practice advise recommends doing screening endoscopy for:
- People with GERD and "alarm symptoms" (difficulty swallowing, bleeding, anemia, weight loss, recurrent vomiting)
- People with GERD symptoms that persist despite four to eight weeks of treatment with a proton pump inhibitor
- Men over 50 with chronic GERD for at least five years and other risk factors (obesity, nighttime reflux symptoms, tobacco use, hiatal hernia, excess abdominal weight)
It's important to note that there are other situations that may warrant screening or screening at an earlier age.
The second step is surveillance for people who have been diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus or other concerning findings.
The amount of time between screenings varies significantly among different institutions and is also dependent on the severity of findings on the original endoscopy.
Bladder cancer is the eighth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, and the 4th leading cancer diagnosed in men.
There are several types of bladder cancer, the most common being transitional cell carcinoma.
In roughly 50% of men, bladder cancer is diagnosed at a stage when it is considered noninvasive, involving only the inner layer of cells in the bladder.
Another 35% of men are diagnosed when the disease has grown deeper into bladder tissues, and only 15% of the time has the cancer spread to distant organs at the time of diagnosis.
For this reason, and because a general screening tool is not available, it's important to be aware of possible bladder-cancer symptoms. These may include:
- Hematuria (blood in the urine)
- Painful urination
- Frequent urination
Risk factors for bladder cancer include:
- Occupational exposures to chemicals (especially in the dye industry)
- Some medications and herbal supplements
- Family history of the disease
Note that there are several cancers related to smoking in addition to lung cancer, and smoking is felt to be the cause in up to 50% of men with bladder cancer.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL,) a cancer that begins in lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell, is the ninth most fatal cancer in men.
There are over 30 types of NHL which are broken down into two major groups depending upon the type of lymphocytes affected: B cells or T cells. The behavior of these tumors varies widely, with some lymphomas being very slow-growing, while others are very aggressive.
Symptoms depend upon where the affected lymph nodes arise.
- In the chest: Shortness of breath and chest pressure
- In the abdomen: A feeling of fullness after a small meal
- In the neck: Visibly enlarged lymph nodes
Non-specific symptoms are also very common and can include:
- Night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
Risk factors are very diverse and different from some other cancers. These can include:
- Long-term infections such as infectious mononucleosis or helicobacter pylori
- Exposures to occupational and household chemicals and pesticides
Since there are so many types and subtypes of NHL, it is difficult to talk about prognosis. However, the overall five-year survival rate of people with NHL is approximately 69%.
Kidney cancer is the 10th most common cause of cancer-related deaths in men in the U.S. Kidney cancer arises in cells of the kidneys, bilateral fist-sized organs that lie behind our other organs in the abdomen.
The most common type of kidney cancer, accounting for roughly 90% of these cancers, is renal cell carcinoma. Other types include transitional cell carcinoma, Wilms tumor, and renal sarcoma.
Symptoms can include:
- Blood in the urine
- Pain or a lump on one side of the abdomen
- Non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, fever, or weight loss
Both smoking and excess body weight are linked to kidney cancer, but heredity also plays a role for some people.
The genetic disorder Von Hippel-Lindau disease increases the risk of kidney cancer, and family history, especially a history of kidney cancer in a sibling, increases the risk.
Some chemical exposures, as well as some pain medications, increase risk, which is not surprising since the kidneys function as a filter for our blood.
Having a history of elevated blood pressure increases the risk of kidney cancer, though it's not known if this is due to having high blood pressure or the medications used to treat hypertension.
The incidence of kidney cancer appears to be increasing, although researchers aren't certain whether there are really more people developing kidney cancer, or if access to improved imaging studies is just making it easier to detect cancer.
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