Top 10 Cancers Causing Death in Men

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What are the 10 Most Fatal Cancers for Men?

X-Ray of lung cancer
Du Cane Medical Imaging LTD/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

In 2015, it’s estimated that 312,150 men will die from cancer. 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 2008-2012, the rate of cancer death is 207.9 per 100,000 men and 145.4 per 100,000 women. Overall, 39.6 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 2001 and 2011, 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), is 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. Check out these top 10 ways to prevent cancer.

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Number 1—Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in men. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©nandyphotos

 Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in men, causing more deaths than the next 3 leading causes—prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, and pancreatic cancer—combined.

Lung cancer is expected to be responsible for 86,380 deaths in men in 2015.

Symptoms of lung cancer in men may include a persistent cough, coughing up blood, hoarseness, and shortness of breath among others. There is now a screening test available for lung cancer, which studies suggest could decrease the death rate from lung cancer by 20 percent. The test is recommended for people between the ages of 55 and 80, who have at least a 30 pack-year history of smoking, and smoke or quit smoking in the last 15 years. Your doctor may wish to look at your other risk factors as well when talking about screening.

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, some approved in just the past year, are making a difference. To make sure you are getting the best treatment possible, strongly consider getting 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.

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Number 2—Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©designer491

 Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in men in the United States, expected to be responsible for 27,530 deaths in 2015.  

If you are surprised that lung cancer deaths in men outrank prostate cancer deaths, it is because the incidence—the number of people diagnosed with prostate cancer—is  much greater than the incidence of lung cancer. The difference lies in the survival rates of the 2 diseases.  Whereas the overall 5-year survival rate for prostate cancer approaches 99 percent, that of lung cancer lingers around 16 percent to 17 percent.

While most men are diagnosed with prostate cancer before they have symptoms, symptoms of prostate cancer may include urinary frequency (needing to urinate more often), hesitancy (needing some time to begin urinating), nocturia (needing to urinate at night), as well as less common signs of blood in urine or semen, or bone pain from prostate cancer which has spread to bones. Having a family history of prostate cancer increases the risk of developing the disease.

Diagnosing and staging prostate cancer often begins with an annual digital recent exam along with a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test, although there has been recent controversy about how and when this should be performed. On one side of the debate has been that PSA screening results in overdiagnosis—diagnosing  and treating a condition which would never cause a problem. On the other side is the knowledge that early detection of high-grade disease can save lives. Our About.com expert on prostate cancer outlines this dilemma very nicely in this article on: "PSA Screening for Prostate Cancer: Not for the Ill Informed."

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Number 3—Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the 3rd leading cause of cancer deaths in men. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©decade3d

 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 2 purposes.  It may offer the chance for primary prevention of colon cancer, as well as early detection—finding the cancer in the earliest most treatable stages of the disease.

To understand this, it is helpful to know that many colon cancers arise in polyps. Whereas hyperplastic polyps are unlikely to progress to cancer, adenomatous polyps can progress from a pre-cancerous stage to a cancerous tumor, and this process may take up to 10 or 20 years. (Learn about the different types of colon polyps.)  By removing polyps that may progress to cancer, the development of cancer may be prevented. Tests such as colonoscopy may also detect early cancers in the colon, which can then be removed before growing and spreading 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.This article discusses current colon cancer screening guidelines. 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 a 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 a change in bowel movements (any kind of change,) blood in your stools (red or dark,) pencil-thin stools, and 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.

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Number 4—Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is the 4th leading cause of cancer deaths in men. Istockphoto:/Stock Photo©Eraxion

Pancreatic cancer is the 4th most fatal cancer in men. While the incidence (number of cases) of colon cancer is much lower than that of prostate cancer or even colon cancer, the survival rate remains poor; the overall 5-year survival rate for the earliest stage of the disease (stage 1A) is 14 percent and survival for stage IV disease (the stage at which most people are diagnosed) is only 1 percent.

Risk factors include smoking, Jewish ethnicity, chronic pancreatitis, and diabetes among others. Pancreatic cancer can run in families, and there is an increased risk in people carrying one of the "breast cancer gene mutations," BRCA2. While there is no screening test for the general population, screening may be recommended for some people with a genetic predisposition. This is one reason why 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,) itching, unexplained weight loss, a loss of appetite, and 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.

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Number 5—Liver and Intrahepatic Bile Duct

Liver and bile duct cancer is the 5th leading cause of cancer deaths in men. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©decade3d

Cancers of the liver and bile duct are the 5th 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 is would be called "primary liver cancer."  If a cancer originates in another organ, it would be 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 a history of excessive alcohol intake, chronic hepatitis B infectionhepatitis C infection, a hereditary syndrome known as hemochromatosis, and aflatoxin exposure (aflatoxin is a mold that may be present in peanuts, corn, or animals fed with feed containing the mold, and is more commonly found in less developed regions of the world.)

Symptoms of liver cancer are similar to those for pancreatic cancer, and may include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes,) loss of appetite, and 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.

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Number 6—Leukemia

Leukemia is the 6th most common cause of cancer related deaths in men. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©designer491

Leukemia is not one disease but includes acute myeloid leukemia (AML), chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and other forms of leukemia.

As a blood-related cancer, symptoms are not usually located to one region as other cancers may be. In addition, symptoms of leukemia often overlap with many other conditions, and may include fatigue, feeling weak, easy bruising, bone and joint pain, and 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.

Treatment has improved dramatically for a few types of leukemia in recent years. ALL, the type of leukemia most common in children, used to be rapidly fatal, whereas roughly 80 percent of children achieve long-term disease-free survival with treatment.

The treatment of CML has likewise greatly improved.  Until 2001, CML was considered a slow-growing (at first) but nearly universally fatal cancer.  Since that time Gleevec (imatinib,) and now 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.

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Number 7—Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer is the 7th leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©yanyong

Esophageal cancer is the 7th most fatal cancer in men in the United States.

There are 2 primary types of cancer of the esophagus,  adenocarcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma, which differ by the types of cell in which the 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, or symptoms that are vague, such as hoarseness, unexplained weight loss or a 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 upon the type of esophageal cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus was the most common form in the past and has been linked to smoking and heavy drinking. Esophageal adenocarcinoma is now the most common form of esophageal cancer in the United States. Risk factors include chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and an inflammatory condition of the esophagus related to GERD called Barrett's esophagus.

There is not a general screening test for esophageal cancer, but there are a few steps of screening available for people at risk. People with a history of GERD, especially combined with other symptoms, are at an increased risk of developing Barrett's esophagus. Having a history of Barrett's esophagus, in turn, increases the risk that someone will develop esophageal cancer by 30 percent to 60 percent.

The first step 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:

  • Men and women with GERD and "alarm symptoms,: alarm symptoms being dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), bleeding, anemia, weight loss, and recurrent vomiting.
  • Men and women with GERD symptoms which persist despite 4 to 8 weeks of treatment with a proton pump inhibitor.
  • Men over the age of 50 with chronic GERD for at least 5 years, and other risk factors which may include obesity, nighttime reflux symptoms, tobacco use, a hiatal hernia, or excess abdominal weight.
  • It's important to note that there are other situations which 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.

The overall 5-year survival rate for esophageal cancer is 18 percent and varies considerably with the stage at diagnosis. The 5-year survival rate for people who have the disease diagnosed locally is 40 percent, this drops to 4 percent of those who have distant spread of the disease.

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Number 8—Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer is the 8th leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©designer491

Bladder cancer is the 8th 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 percent 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 percent of men are diagnosed when the disease has grown deeper into bladder tissues, and only 15 percent 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 is important to have an awareness of possible symptoms of bladder cancer. These may include hematuria (blood in the urine,) and painful or frequent urination.

There are several risk factors for bladder cancer including occupational exposures to chemicals (especially in the dye industry,) smoking, some medications and herbal supplements, as well as a 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 percent of men with bladder cancer

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Number 9—Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is the 9th leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©Eraxion

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL,) a cancer which begins in lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell, is the 9th most fatal cancer in men.  

There are over 30 types of NHL which are broken down into 2 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 vary widely depending upon where the affected lymph nodes arise. Symptoms of shortness of breath and chest pressure (with lymphomas in the chest,) a feeling of fullness after a small meal (with lymphomas in the abdomen,) or visibly enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, are among just a few of the ways that lymphomas may be noticed. Non-specific symptoms are also very common and can include night sweats, fatigue. and unexplained weight loss.

Risk factors are very diverse and different than some other cancers. These can include long-term infections such as infectious mononucleosis (EBV virus and lymphoma) or helicobacter pylori (see MALT cell lymphoma.) Exposures to occupational and household chemicals and pesticides, as well as radiation, are additional risk factors.  

Since there are so many types and subtypes of NHL, it is difficult to talk about prognosis, however, the overall 5-year survival rate of people with NHL is approximately 69 percent

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Number 10—Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer is the 10th most common cause of cancer deaths in men. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©wildpixel

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 percent 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 felt on one side of the abdomen, or non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, a fever, or weight loss.

Both smoking and excess body weight are linked with 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 the cancer.

Sources:

American College of Physicians. ACP Best Practice Advise. Upper Endoscopy for Gastroesophageal Reflux. Accessed 07/27/15. https://www.acponline.org/mobile/clinicalguidelines/bestpractice/upper_endoscopy_gerd_0112.html

American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2015. Accessed 07/08/15.http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@editorial/documents/document/acspc-044552.pdf

American Cancer Society. Can bladder cancer be found early? Updated 02/25/15. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/bladdercancer/detailedguide/bladder-cancer-detection

American Cancer Society. Can pancreatic cancer be found early? Updated 01/09/15. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreaticcancer/detailedguide/pancreatic-cancer-detection

American Cancer Society. How is liver cancer found? Updated 01/13/15. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/livercancer/overviewguide/liver-cancer-overview-diagnosed

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National Cancer Institute. Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment-for health care professionals. Updated 05/20/15. http://www.cancer.gov/types/leukemia/hp/child-all-treatment-pdq#section/all

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U.S. National Library of Medicine. Liver Metastases. Updated 07/01/15. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000277.htm

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