Five things every man should know about cancer

Friday 6 June, 2008

To mark International Men's Health Week (9-15 June), The Cancer Council Victoria has put together a top five of need-to-know cancer facts for men.

One: Bowel cancer kills more than fifty Victorian men each month, yet most cases can be cured if detected early.

Almost 650 men (and almost 550 women) die from bowel cancer in Victoria each year, however up to 90 per cent of cases can be cured if found early enough. That's why if you're over 50, you should complete a simple, at-home test, called a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) every two years. An FOBT looks for traces of blood in the bowel motion which could be, but are not always, a sign of bowel cancer.

If you're turning 50, 55 or 65 before December 2010 you will be eligible for a free FOBT as part of the Australian Government's National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. For everyone else over 50, you can order an FOBT online at or by calling the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20, or alternatively you can ask you doctor for an FOBT.

‘Regular screening is essential for everyone over 50 because you can have bowel cancer without any noticeable symptoms,' said Manager of Cancer Education Programs at The Cancer Council Victoria, Alison Peipers.

For further information about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program visit: or call the free information line: 1800 118 868.

Two: One third of all cancers can be prevented by not smoking and having a healthy lifestyle.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in Victorian men, yet almost all cases can be prevented by not smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke. Smoking not only leads to lung cancer; it increases your chance of cancer of the mouth, throat, bladder, kidneys, stomach, pancreas, penis and anus. Smoking also affects the ability to have and maintain an erection, and lowers your sperm count. So there are clearly some very good reasons to quit smoking, or better still, never start. However, other lifestyle choices can also have a significant effect on your cancer risk.

‘A large proportion of cancers (33 per cent) are caused by avoidable risk factors, yet many people are not aware of the effect their lifestyle has on cancer risk. While most know smoking causes cancer, many will be unaware being overweight, consuming alcohol and not exercising, also significantly increases the risk of developing many types of cancer,' said Ms Peipers.

To cut your cancer risk, the Cancer Council recommends you:

  1. Quit smoking.
  2. Check for unusual changes and have a regular screening test for bowel cancer from the age of 50.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight.
  4. Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and limit foods high in fat.
  5. Move, be physically active.
  6. Protect yourself, be SunSmart.
  7. Limit alcoholic drinks.

For further information on what you can do to reduce your risk of cancer visit or call the Cancer Council Helpline to request a copy of our new Cut your cancer risk brochure.

Three: Melanoma - the deadliest form of skin cancer - kills almost twice as many men as women in Victoria.

Melanoma is more common in men, and the number of deaths from melanoma in Victoria is twice as high for men compared with women. While, there is no clear explanation for the higher rates of incidence and mortality, it may be because men spend more time exposed to the sun by working or playing sports outdoors. They may also be less likely to notice or see a doctor immediately if they have a skin change.

‘What we do know is men tend to be diagnosed at an older age, when prognosis is poorer for most cancers, and when the melanoma has become more advanced,' said Director of The Cancer Council Victoria's Cancer Education Unit, Craig Sinclair.

‘Early detection of all forms of skin cancer leads to a cure in 95 per cent of cases. People of all ages should check their skin regularly for changes such as a new spot or mole, or an existing one that has changed size or colour, or one that bleeds or is itchy,' said Mr Sinclair.

The good news is skin cancer is almost totally preventable by being SunSmart. Look for the UV Alert in the weather section of the news and take the following five steps to protect against sun damage when UV levels are 3 or above:

For further information visit the Cancer Council's SunSmart website:

Four: There is no one-size-fits-all recommendation for prostate cancer testing.

Prostate cancer occurs mainly in men over 50 and is the most common male cancer in Victoria. The messages about prostate cancer testing can be confusing, and many men will be unsure about whether they need to be tested.

The fact is, some men will benefit from having a prostate cancer test, whereas some will not and may even be harmed. This is because there is currently no screening test to reliably identify which men require treatment for prostate cancer and which do not. While early detection can improve treatment outcomes for some men, the side-effects that follow testing and treatment can be very serious (incontinence and impotence), and therefore it is important to make an informed decision about whether testing is right for you. You can do this by having a discussion with your doctor first to ensure you fully understand the risks and benefits associated with testing and treatment, as well as your own risk of prostate cancer.

For further information visit the Australian Prostate Cancer Collaboration website:

Five: You're not alone. The Cancer Council can help.

One in two Australian men will face a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. You don't have to deal with it alone. The Cancer Council Victoria's Cancer Information and Support Services (CISS) can provide support, information and advice for anyone affected by a cancer diagnosis, whether it's your own or someone else you know.

If you are concerned or have a question about cancer, you can speak to a cancer nurse by calling the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20, Monday to Friday from 8.30 am to 8.00 pm (cost of a local call). They can provide you with information and support on any aspect of cancer. The service is free, confidential and available in many languages.