In a healthy person, body cells follow a modus operandi. They grow, divide and die. But cancerous cells continue to grow and divide instead of dying when they are supposed to.
While cancer can affect anyone, the three cancers most commonly diagnosed amongst male patients are colorectal, lung and prostate cancers.
Prostate cancer, for one, is unique to males. The prostate gland may only be about 25gm – or the size of a walnut – but it plays an important role in the body, producing seminal fluids to keep sperm alive. However, in some men, cells in the glands producing semen in the prostate gland can grow uncontrollably.
Dr Foo Kian Fong, senior consultant, medical oncology, at Parkway Cancer Centre, says that intrinsic risk factors include race, genetic makeup, and the simple fact that you are born a male. Age increases the risk. According to cancer.net, about 60 per cent of prostate cancer cases are seen in men above the age of 65.
Prostate cancer is not related to sexual activity but it is related to obesity, smoking, a diet high in fat and low in fibre.
To prevent prostate cancer as well as other cancers, consume less meat and food high in animal fat, and maintain a healthy weight.
In its early stages, prostate cancer does not show any symptoms. Later on, these may include a loss of appetite and weight, lethargy, bone pain and urinary changes. If you have any of these over a prolonged period, consult your family doctor because “there is simply no way to feel for prostate cancer on your own as there are no lumps”.
Your doctor will conduct an examination of the prostate and perform simple blood test to screen for elevated Prostate Specific Antigen(PSA) level. If the clinical impression is possible cancer, he will refer you to a urologist for further workup such as a trans-rectal ultrasound and biopsy.
The good news: prostate cancer in the early stage is easily cured with surgery or radiation. In cases where the disease is localised with low Gleason grades (used to stage prostate cancer), patients can expect a survival rate of more than 95 per cent in five years.
Screening early can save your life
Another cancer common amongst men – and with no symptoms in its early stage – is lung cancer.
In up to 25 per cent of lung cancer cases, there are no symptoms until the later stages when the patient may experience breathlessness, a hoarse voice, chest pains and constant coughing. Depending on the stage it is at, lung cancer can be treated with surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or a combination of the above.
Smoking is the major risk factor for lung cancer in Singaporean men. In fact, 78 per cent of men with lung cancer in Singapore are current or former smokers. This is because harmful substances found in cigarettes, cigars and pipes can damage lung cells which may turn cancerous over time. So, quitting smoking can reduce your risk of cancer.
Other risk factors for lung cancer include constant exposure to radiation such as the radioactive gas radon, asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel, soot and tar in workplaces.
There are studies to show that screening CT scan of the chest will reduce risk of lung cancer related mortality by 20 to 25 per cent in men who are chronic heavy smokers.
The third most common cancer affecting males is colorectal cancer which generally begins as a non-cancerous polyp that can sometimes turn into a malignant tumour.
This is why early screening, which includes colonoscopy, is important because it can detect and remove polyps before they turn cancerous.
Also, faecal immunochemicaltests (FIT) can show microscopic amounts of blood in stools, which is common in all stages of colorectal cancer. When diagnosed and treated early, 90 per cent of patients see a survival rate of five years.
Like prostate cancer, colorectal cancer tends to affect older men. Dr Foo recommends an annual FIT test and a colonoscopy screening once every 10 years from the age of 50.