No man is invincible, especially when it comes to health. Learn to detect and defend against the cancers most likely to attack men, and you'll be able to take the disease head-on if it strikes--and increase your chances of beating it.
Early signs: Usually there are none. A digital rectal exam can tell if your prostate is hard or irregular, and cancer is suspected with a high PSA (prostate specific antigen) level.
False alarms: Urination problems--frequency, urgency, slow stream, incomplete emptying--can be related to prostate enlargement or narrowing of the urethra.
The test: A biopsy if the PSA is high or its rate of change is high. But a spiked score can also be a sign of infection, which should be treated with antibiotics for 4 weeks. The cancer grows slowly; waiting isn't dangerous, says Christopher Saigal, M.D., a urological oncologist at UCLA.
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Early signs: Frequently, none. But a cough that won't go away--or one that brings up blood--is often evidence the cancer is there. Also, chest pain that's always present and not influenced by movement, says Ezra Cohen, M.D., a medical oncologist at University of Chicago Medical Center.
False alarms: Pneumonia. On a chest x-ray, both pneumonia and a tumor look white. The pneumonia will resolve, but you'll need another x-ray 4 to 6 weeks later.
The test: Biopsy.
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Early signs: Blood in the stool. Never ignore it, even if it's a one-time occurrence. It could be a precancerous polyp leaking blood, and bleeding is the only early warning you'll receive. In more than half of cases, there is no sign, says Greg Enders, M.D., Ph.D., a gastroenterologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center.
False alarms: In men under 50, bleeding is probably from hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, colitis, or an abnormal blood vessel. Still, see a doctor.
The test: A colonoscopy allows the doctor to check for large and small problems and remove polyps in the same procedure.
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Early signs: Blood in the urine, which should always be checked, although if you're younger than 60, it's often a sign of kidney stones. Most bladder cancer only affects the lining. If it is caught early, it can be beaten, says Brian Rini, M.D., an oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute.
False alarms: An overactive bladder or painful urination is more often a sign of an infection.
The tests: A scope through the penis to look at the bladder and a urine test that detects cancer cells.
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Early signs: Painless, swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpit, or groin. Nodes swell with infections, but if they don't subside in a week, have them checked. Also, unexplained weight loss over 1 or 2 months, pain in the node area after drinking alcohol, or generalized itching with swelling (without rash) could be cause for concern, says Cleveland Clinic oncologist John Sweetenham, M.D.
False alarms: Nodes can swell because of an infection.
The test: A blood test can occasionally pick up something, but a biopsy of the node is more thorough.
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