February 15, 2018

These cancers may go unnoticed until it’s too late. Here’s how and why you need to pay attention to your body.

Men: Visiting your doctor regularly is extremely important, even if you’re not sick. A routine physical along with proper age-related screenings and a chance to talk to your physician about any changes in your body are good defenses against cancer. These four cancers can creep up in men and wreak havoc on their lives — or take them: liver cancer, melanoma, lung cancer and colorectal cancer.

“Many cancers are very indolent and can come on slowly over time, and you won’t even know you have cancer,” said Waleed F. Khalaf, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology & Oncology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “But, with cancer, if it’s caught early enough, there’s a much better outcome, much better prognosis, a much better chance for a cure.”

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. — after heart disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most common cancers in men are prostate cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancer. But the deadliest cancers for men (in order) are lung, prostate, colorectal and liver. Invasive melanoma is projected to be on the list of the most common cancers for men in 2018, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association.

“I think men tend to put things off,” Khalaf said, “but it’s very important to do all the recommended screenings. We have resources, and we should take advantage of them.”

Here, we take a look at what you can do to best prevent certain cancers, what screenings and vaccines to get, and how to keep an eye out for new or changing symptoms.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. “The one best thing you can do to prevent cancer is to not smoke,” Khalaf said. Keep in mind that smoking cigarettes can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body, not just the lungs. If you do smoke, seek help from your physician to quit. Also, be sure to avoid secondhand smoke. Each year, more than 7,000 people who’ve never smoked die from lung cancer as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the CDC.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends a low-dose computed tomography screening yearly if you’re 50 to 80 years old and have a history of heavy smoking and currently smoke or you’ve quit the habit within the past 15 years. (Read about Vanderbilt’s Lung Screening Program here.) Consult your doctor if you experience coughing that doesn’t improve, chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing up blood, fatigue or unexplained weight loss. Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. If you haven’t already, test your home.

Colorectal cancer

Colon cancer is the second deadliest cancer for both men and women, but regular screenings can help to detect precancerous growths so that they can be removed.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends regular screenings if you’re age 50 to 75, and possibly beyond. If you’re at an increased risk for colon cancer, your doctor might suggest earlier tests. Talk to your physician about which screening is right for you: stool test, flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. Tell your doctor if you experience blood in your stool, stomach pain that doesn’t improve or unexplained weight loss.

Liver cancer

About 22,000 men get liver cancer each year in the United States and about 16,000 die from it, according to the CDC. Make sure you’ve received the hepatitis B vaccine, get tested for hepatitis C, and drink alcohol only in moderation.

“When you reduce the chance of hepatitis, liver disease and cirrhosis, you reduce the chance of liver cancer,” Khalaf said. Talk to your doctor if you experience pain or discomfort on the right side of your upper abdomen, pain near the right shoulder blade, a yellowing of the skin or eyes or easy bruising. Also pay attention to unexplained weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting.


Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer, but we can reduce our risk by minimizing our exposure to ultraviolet light. Avoid tanning (both indoor and outdoor). When outdoors, wear protective clothing, including a hat and sunglasses, and slather on sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher with broad-spectrum protection.

If you’ve got an increased risk of skin cancer, talk to your primary care provider or dermatologist about recommendations on screening. Inspect your skin regularly for any suspicious moles or spots and talk to your doctor regarding them.

Learn more

The Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is a national leader in patient care and research. Vanderbilt offers the region’s most complete range of oncology care, from advanced imaging to team-based treatment options to genetic cancer medicine and the latest in therapies being studied in clinical trials.