It’s the embarrassment factor that kills: every year more than 10,000 men die from testicular, prostate or penile cancer in the UK when treatment can often provide a cure.
The reason is that too many wait until it’s too late before they pluck up the courage to go to a doctor for help.
That’s why this week is Orchid Male Cancer Awareness Week – a campaign to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms and convince more men to shake off the embarrassment and visit their GP.
Because the stark truth is that these male cancers are predicted to afflict an estimated 39,000 more Britons in 2012.
Rebecca Porta, chief executive of UK male cancer charity Orchid, which runs the campaign, admits it can be a challenge to get men to take their health seriously. But she adds: “We all have a role to play in working together to fight male cancer whether it’s to encourage self-checks or to seek medical advice and information.”
So what are the warning signs, and when is it time to get checked out?
The most common of the three is cancer of the prostate, which is likely to affect one in every 14 men.
It mainly occurs in the over 65s and is rare under the age of 40 – nevertheless, more than 1,000 men under 55 are diagnosed annually.
Quick diagnosis is key: up to 80 per cent of patients with early prostate cancer survive for more than ten years after treatment.
Other than embarrassment stopping sufferers from seeking help, a big problem is that symptoms can easily be confused with other issues, such as simply getting older.
Because the prostate is a gland surrounding the urethra, the tube that passes urine, most issues begin with urination, including:
*Slow or weak flow of urine
*Urinating more frequently or urgently than usual
*Difficulty starting to urinate
*Pain or burning sensation when urinating
*Difficulty getting or maintaining an erection or pain during ejaculation
*Constipation, altered bowel habit, or not feeling the bladder is completely empty
Other, less common, symptoms include unexplained urinary infection or pain in the groin, hips or back, blood in the urine or semen, and impotence.
As the NHS notes: “These symptoms do not mean you definitely have prostate cancer but they shouldn’t be ignored.”
The same applies to the symptoms of testicular cancer – the most common cancer in men aged between 15 and 45. The major symptom tends to be a lump, but what may surprise most men is that there very often isn’t any associated pain.
Again, while most lumps will not in fact signal cancer, it is vital to get checked out – not least because nine on ten cases are eminently curable.
Other warning signs of testicular cancer include:
*A dull ache or sharp pain in your testicles or scrotum, which may come and go
*A feeling of heaviness in your scrotum
*A dull ache in your lower abdomen (stomach area)
*A sudden collection of fluid in your scrotum
*General feeling of being unwell
Lastly, penile cancer is relatively rare, although it still afflicts 400 men in Britain yearly.
On the plus side, it is usually a slow growing cancer and, if caught early, chances of survival are high. It can develop anywhere on the penis, but most commonly strikes beneath the foreskin and on the head, or glans.
Look out for:
*A painless lump or ulcer on the penis that doesn’t heal
*Unusual foul smelling discharge
*A red rash under the foreskin
*Flat growths of bluish brown colour
*Difficulty in drawing back the foreskin
*Unexplained change in colour of the skin
*Swollen lymph nodes in your groin area
As survivor Colin Osborne, who founded Orchid after being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1994, said: “The biggest problem with male cancer is getting men to check themselves. I had all the classic symptoms and just did nothing about it and it was only my wife, when I mentioned it to her, made me go to my GP. I had had the disease for about six months and it had spread to my abdomen, pelvis and lungs.”
He added: “It’s so important; the earlier you pick up on it and get it treated the better your chances of survival. Just put aside the embarrassment because, as I say, the only thing that you are going to lose is your life.”