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Three cancer types men need to know about

One out of seven South African men is diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your risk.

The National Cancer Registry records all cancer diagnoses in South Africa and reveals that one in seven men is diagnosed with cancer by the age of 74. According to 2013 results, prostate cancer (1:18), colorectal cancer (1:75) and lung cancer (1:76) are among the top five cancers most common in males.

Alarmingly, men often avoid doctor’s visits, which makes a bad situation worse. For most cancers, the earlier the stage they are discovered, the better the chance they have of being cured, says Dr Oliver McGowan, an oncologist at Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital’s oncology unit. ‘Failing to follow up on cancer symptoms earlier results in a diagnosis of cancer at a more advanced stage, and a worse prognosis,’ he adds. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this is one of the reasons why the life expectancy of men is six years less than that of women.

The good news is that men can change their behaviour and increase their chances of a long and healthy life.

Cancer prevention

The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) reports that environmental factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking cause 90% of all cancers. ‘This means simple lifestyle changes can limit a person’s chance of developing cancer,’ explains Dr Karen Motilall, a radiation oncologist at the oncology unit at Life Eugene Marais Hospital. She adds that this includes:

  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Eating a predominantly plant-based diet that includes fruit, vegetables and wholegrains
  • Limiting red and processed meat
  • Limiting salty or sugar-laden food and drinks, as well as alcoholic drinks
  • Being physically active and avoiding tobacco (Go to if you’re struggling to quit smoking.)


Regular screening improves your chance of diagnosing cancer in its early stages, and is especially imperative if you have a high-risk profile for a certain type of cancer. Dr Motilall says, ‘If the tests are normal, your healthcare practitioner will decide on an appropriate testing schedule, for example every one to two years. However, if the results are worrying, your doctor will refer you to a specialist to do further tests, which may include a biopsy.’ It’s also important to gain support during this period.

Curing cancer

South Africans with cancer have a 60% survival rate, according to CANSA. There are a number of cancer treatment options available. A decision on which to use will be determined by the type of cancer and how advanced it is, explains Dr McGowan. Surgery and chemotherapy are often recommended for colon cancer. Both are also used to treat lung cancer, as is radiation therapy. Educate yourself about Life Healthcare’s oncology services for a holistic view of the treatment options.

Interestingly, prostate cancer may not always require treatment. If it is limited to the prostate and seems unlikely to grow, your doctor may recommend active surveillance and will only intervene if it looks as if it is getting worse. Alternatively, treatment can entail surgery, hormone therapy, cryotherapy (freezing the tissue), chemotherapy, radiation therapy or biological therapy.

The likelihood of a cure diminishes where cancers are more advanced, but treatment options are still available to extend one’s life, adds Dr McGowan. These are the risk factors, symptoms and recommended screening for prostate, lung and colorectal cancer.

Prostate cancer


  • Ageing – chances increase after age 50
  • African heritage
  • Family history


  • Trouble urinating
  • Weak urination
  • Blood in urine or semen
  • Discomfort in pelvic area
  • Bone pain
  • Erectile dysfunction


  • A digital rectal exam (DRE) or transrectal ultrasound (TRUS), or prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test

Lung cancer

  • A history of smoking – direct or second-hand (CANSA reports that 600,000 non-smokers die every year from the effects of second-hand cigarette smoke)
  • Exposure to carcinogens such as diesel fumes, coal smoke, asbestos, radon gas
  • Family or personal history


  • A persistent new cough
  • Changes in a chronic cough
  • Coughing up blood, even in small amounts
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that recur


  • A low-dose computerised tomography (LDCT) scan of the lungs is recommended

Colorectal cancer


  • Over 50
  • African heritage
  • Personal history (polyps or inflammatory intestinal conditions)
  • Family history
  • Diet high in red and processed meat
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption


  • A change in bowel habits that lasts more than a few days
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in stools
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
  • Bowels don’t empty completely
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss


  • Stool tests or colonoscopy (inserting a small camera into the colon to look for irregularities)

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a healthcare professional. E&OE. Life Healthcare Group Ltd does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage suffered by the reader as a result of the information provided.