Healthy Living in the North

Tales from the Man Cave: Cancer awareness

A cairn on a rocky surface

The month of November is an important time for men’s health and men’s cancer awareness. Look out for the signs along the way!

Have you seen any extra stubble in your community over the last three days?

November is a great month for cancer support for men because all the lads seem to grow extra-long moustaches to raise awareness for the cause of prostate cancer. This is a good cause, indeed, and needs more support, however I am continually reminded that when it comes to cancer, there is more than the prostate involved and that testing for prostate cancer is something that needs careful discussion with your doctor. Approximately 4,100 men die each year from prostate cancer in Canada.

The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care, which advises doctors on the benefits of the prostate-specific antigen test (PSA), recommends that screening by PSA should not be done without detailed discussion with the man involved as there are risks involved from harms done through unnecessary treatment.

This is largely due to the nature of the different types of prostate cancer, some of which grow very slowly and some of which are fast-growing. Dr. Mike has a great explanatory video on YouTube.

What about those other cancers? Here’s a short rundown of the worst offenders:

Take testicular cancer, for example. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, in Canada in 2010, 40 men died from testicular cancer.

This is a cancer that can be cured if discovered early and that is why we encourage men (especially young men) to check themselves out. It is a sad thing to lose so many young men to this and it is better to go through life with one less than the alternative.

TIP: Check for lumps or bumps in the shower. 15 -35 is the most common age group for testicular cancer but it can occur at any age so just keep an eye out for anything that isn’t normal for you. HealthLinkBC has some more information on examining yourself.

Similarly, colorectal cancer kills approximately 5,100 men according to Canadian Cancer Society and is silent until well-developed.

That’s why the FIT test is recommended every two years after 50 years of age. This can be followed up by colonoscopy if anything requires further exploration.

Diets high in red meat and processed meats are a risk factor. Physical inactivity is a risk factor, as is obesity, smoking and heavy alcohol use. Diets high in vegetables and fruit lower risk and perhaps offer some protection.

Lung cancer is responsible for 10,900 deaths per year in Canada. Smoking causes 50% of all lung cancers – which is one of the reasons we keep saying “please stop smoking.” If everybody stopped smoking, there would be 5,450 fewer deaths from this disease within a few short years. There are currently no screening tests for lung cancer.

Skin cancer is also rising in numbers. HealthLinkBC has a good article here on what to look for.

The common thread? Changes.

No matter what it is: unusual lumps or bumps, changes in bowel habit, coughing up blood or blood in the toilet. Don’t be embarrassed – go get it checked out! Keep an eye on moles and if you see changes, you know what to do! Yes – check it out with your doctor!

If you bury your head in the sand, they might just bury the rest of you with it.

It only takes a simple appointment. And while you’re at it, ask what other screening options are available to you.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Cancer and men

Daffodil

Daffodils are popping up all over northern B.C. thanks to the Canadian Cancer Society’s annual Daffodil Month campaign. It’s a great chance to think about cancer prevention, screening, and treatment.

Flowers may be blooming in the Lower Mainland, but in northern B.C., you’re hard-pressed to find spring blossoms in April. There are daffodils everywhere, though, thanks to the Canadian Cancer Society’s Daffodil Month! The annual campaign raises funds and shows support for those living with cancer.

We likely all know of someone who has been affected by cancer and, according to the Where are the Men? report, men in northern B.C. have higher rates of new cancer diagnoses and are dying of cancer more often than women.

I sat down with Margaret Jones-Bricker, regional director for the Northern Region of the Canadian Cancer Society BC and Yukon Division to talk about cancers affecting men and what men can do to decrease their risk.

Are men at a higher risk for cancer than women?

When you look at cancers that only men can get, their risk is 100% greater. Such is the case with prostate and testicular cancers. Overall cancer risk and risk for specific cancers can be determined by a lot of other factors besides sex like lifestyle, genetics, age and family history. In Canada, men have a 45% lifetime probability of developing cancer compared with 41% for women.

What cancers should men be particularly concerned about?

The three most common types of cancer in men are lung, colorectal and prostate. Prostate cancer accounts for about one-quarter (24%) of all new cancer cases in men. Breast cancer rounds out the top four most frequently diagnosed cancers in Canada, but is much less common in men.

In the north, we have higher rates of tobacco use, which means higher rates of lung cancer. Smoking is related to more than 85% of lung cancer cases in Canada and men develop lung cancer slightly more often than women.

Approximately 1,000 Canadian men were diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2014. It is the most common cancer in young men 15–29 years of age.

What can men do to decrease their risk of cancer?

The number one thing men can do is if you smoke, stop!

Other ways to decrease cancer risk include lifestyle changes related to physical activity and healthy eating. The Canadian Cancer Society has some great nutrition and fitness recommendations.

Occupational and environmental factors can also impact our health; these include our home and work environments. Have your home tested for radon, which is a factor in lung cancer, second only to tobacco use.

What screening options are available to men? How do they know if they should be screened?

Approximately 5-10 per cent of cancers are related to specific inherited genetic abnormalities. The fact that 1 or 2 family members have been diagnosed with cancer doesn’t mean that you will also develop cancer. This is especially true if the family member is not a first-degree relative or if the cancers are of different types. It is important to discuss screening with your doctor if you have a family history of cancer. Your doctor may suggest testing at an earlier age or using a different test than recommended by the provincial guidelines.

The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that men (and women) age 50 and over have a stool test (guaiac-based fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test) at least every 2 years. There is convincing evidence that stool tests with appropriate followup can significantly reduce deaths from colorectal cancer.

Prostate cancer seems to be different. Large, reliable studies haven’t been able to tell us clearly whether it’s a good thing to use these tests to look for prostate cancer. So, we recommend that you talk to your doctor about your risk of prostate cancer and about the benefits and risks of finding it early.

Daffodil

In northern B.C., men have higher rates of new cancer diagnoses and are dying of cancer more often than women. There are, however, things that men can do to decrease their risk of cancer.

Are all cancers preventable?

Up to 50% of all cancers are preventable. Certainly your risk of contracting lung cancer is hugely preventable by quitting smoking.

For other cancers, we don’t always know what the cells in our bodies will do, but we can do our best by following a healthy lifestyle, getting physically active, eating more vegetables and fruit, and limiting our consumption of red meats and alcohol.

Investing in the best research has led to tremendous progress against cancer. We know more about what causes cancer, how it develops, how best to treat it and how we can improve the quality of life of people living with cancer. Today, over 60% of Canadians diagnosed with cancer will survive at least 5 years after their diagnosis. In the 1940s, survival was about 25%.

What resources are available for men looking for more information?

The Canadian Cancer Society has information specific to men and downloadable pamphlets on everything from cancer prevention to diagnosis and treatments:

We strongly encourage smokers to use the supports that are available to help them quit smoking and to get access to nicotine replacement therapies through the Lung Association’s QuitNow and the new QuitNow Men websites.

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is a Regional Lead for Population Health. She has a passion for healthy living and health promotion and is a foodie at heart. Originally from Ontario, she has fully embraced northern living, but enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She swims, bikes and runs, and just completed her first marathon.

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