Most common cancers in males below 40

Most common cancers in males below 40
January 11, 2014 11:52 PM

Cancer is thought to be a problem of old aged and females. A number of days are allocated for the awareness of female cancers like “breast cancer awareness day” but how common do you think cancer is in males as compared to females? You would be astonished to know that according to some studies the overall cancer burden in males is even greater than females. In 2008, 12.7 million people were diagnosed of different cancers worldwide. Out of those 12.7 million, 6.6 million were males and 6.0 million were females.

Also if you think that you’re young and unthreatened by cancer then you better think over it again. The prevalence of different cancers varies in different age groups. Generally the prevalence of different cancers in males increases with increasing age. For example it’s rare for a male of age below 40 years to get prostate cancer. This cancer is more common in males aged 65 years or above. But it’s not true for every cancer. Some cancers particularly target younger or adult males of age 40 or below. For instance testicular cancer is more common in younger males as compared to older men. In the UK between years 2008-2010 an average of 85% cases of Testicular cancer were diagnosed in males between 15-49 years.

You’re young and energetic but you shouldn’t overlook any unusual change happening in your body. It is better that you know what threatens your life. In the text to follow you’ll learn the top 3 cancers in men below 40, chances of malignancy in case of those cancers and treatment options you’ve if you get any one of those cancers.

Testicular cancer 

Testicular cancer is the most important cancer when it comes to young or adult males below 40. The chances of males getting this cancer reach the peak between 30-34 years. Almost 95% of the testicular cancers are germ cell tumors and 4% are the tumors of lymphoid tissues (lymphomas). Germ cell tumors are further divided into two main types: seminomas and non-seminomas, each having similar prevalence i.e. 40-45%.  

What is the difference seminoma and non-seminoma? 

Before we can move on to know the difference between these tumors, there are a few terms that you should know. The immature cells of body that give rise to mature cells are called “germ cells”. Germ cells are of different types but germ cells can be grossly divided into two types when it comes to testicular cells: germinal cells that give rise to other structures and other germ cells like yolk sac cells. 

Now that you know these basics, we move on to the difference between these two types of tumors.

Seminomas are purely the tumors of germinal cells. These tumors are slow growing tumors that are more common in males in their 30s and 40s. These tumors are quite sensitive to therapy.

Non-seminomas include germs cells other than germinal cells like yolk cells. So, the testicular cancer belonging to this group can be divided into several sub groups based on the type of germ cell present in them. Generally speaking, this cancer is rapidly dividing type of cancer, affecting males in earlier age i.e. 20-35 years. These tumors are rapidly dividing tumors that are quite resistant to therapy. The sub types of this type of cancer include teratomas, choriocarcinomas, yolk cell carcinomas and embryonal carcinomas.

Are these tumors malignant?

Yes, these tumors are malignant and can spread to several other organs of body. Seminoma for instance can first go into the lymph nodes and from those lymph nodes they can spread to other organs of body. Choriocarcinomas are very notorious when it comes to malignancy. They can spread to several distal areas of body including lungs, bones and brain- giving rise to the cancers of these organs. 

What are the symptoms?

If you’ve pain in your testes or lower back then you should get a complete check up because these two are the most important symptoms of testicular cancer. In addition you might also experience generalized symptoms of cancer like fever, malaise, weight loss and loss of energy. 

What are the treatment options?

The treatment options depend on two important things:

  1. What is the type of tumor that you’ve, whether it is seminoma or non seminoma?
  2. What is the stage of tumor?

Once it’s found that you’ve testicular cancer, the first step is the find the type of cancer by examining cells of testes under microscope. 

The second step is to find the stage of tumor. The cancer is categorized as stage 1 if it hasn’t spread beyond testes. The tumor is 2nd stage tumor if it has spread to the lymph nodes. Finally, the tumor is on its 3rd stage if it has spread to organs like brain, lungs and bones. 

The third step is to employ a suitable treatment. The selection of treatment depends on the type of tumor and its spread:

  1. The first choice is surgical removal of testes and regional lymph nodes. This is done for both seminomas and non-seminomas. 
  2. The second choice is radiation therapy. This is usually done for seminomas only. 
  3. The third choice is chemotherapy. This method is employed for both seminomas and non-seminomas. 

Malignant melanoma

Malignant melanoma is another important cancer when it comes to adolescent and young adult males. The prevalence and deaths caused due to this type of cancer are much higher in males than in females. According to some studies males are 55% more likely to die of a malignant melanoma than same aged females. 

What is malignant melanoma?

Same as before, you need to know the basics before knowing this cancer. Our skin has several pigment producing cells called “melanocytes”. Melanocytes are responsible for imparting normal skin color. 

The growth of melanocytes is kept under check by normal body mechanisms. But if, due to some reasons, the growth of melanocytes becomes irregular, it gives rise to melanoma or cancer of melanocytes. 

What are the types of malignant melanoma?

Two melanomas are very important when it comes to young males: superficially spreading melanoma and nodular melanoma. 

  1. Superficially spreading melanoma: Almost 7 out 10 reported cases of melanoma in the UK are of this type and this type of melanoma is common in youngsters than in elderly. This type of melanoma tends to spread outwards instead to growing into the deeper layer of skins. It remains benign as long as it continues spreading outwards. As soon as it starts moving into the deeper layers of skin, it becomes malignant. 
  2. Nodular melanoma: This is another melanoma common in middle aged individuals. This type of melanoma commonly develops on chest or back. Nodular melanoma is different from superficial spreading melanoma because it quickly penetrates deeper layers of skin and becomes malignant. 

Is this cancer malignant?

Yes, as the name shows this type of cancer is malignant and it can affect other organs of body, too. The most common organs affected from this type of cancer include brain, lungs, bones and liver.

What are the symptoms?

How do you know that the cancer you’ve is malignant melanoma and not something else? There are some symptoms that are strong indicative that you might have a malignant melanoma of skin. Such symptoms include:

  • Appearance of abnormal coloration on skin. 
  • Appearance of moles on skin. 
  • Your skin might get some lumps. 
  • In later stages you might experience soreness or itching on your skin. 
  • Generalized symptoms of cancer like fever, malaise, weight loss and loss of energy. 

What are the treatment options?

Like any other cancer, the choice of treatment in case of malignant melanoma depends on the type and grade of tumor. The treatment options include:

  1. The first option is surgery. In this method the primary lesion caused by the cancer, adjoining skin area and lymph nodes are removed. This is particularly effective in reducing the recurrence of cancer. 
  2. Radiotherapy makes use of radiation. In case of malignant melanoma, this therapy is done after the surgery in order to reduce the chances recurrence. This method is also employed in those cases where metastasis has occurred. 
  3. Chemotherapy or immunotherapy are perhaps the last choices when it comes to the treatment of malignant melanoma. This is particularly effective when cancer has already spread to other organs.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer is another threat that young males face. Studies have proven that males under the age of 40 are 4 times more prone to develop this type of cancer as compared to females. There are three major types of lung cancer in middle aged individuals: adenocarcinoma of lungs, small cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

What is the difference between different lung cancers?

Same as before you need to know some basics before you can move on to some advanced concepts. Lungs are mostly composed to two types of structures: squamous cells and secretary glands. 

  • The squamous cells mostly make up the alveoli of lungs i.e. grape like structures that make up the architecture of lugs. Any abnormal growth in these cells gives rise to squamous cell carcinoma. 
  • Adenocarcinoma is the cancer of secretary glands of lungs. 
  • Small cell carcinoma is a highly malignant tumor that consists of small, undifferentiated cells. 

Another classification divides lung cancer into primary and secondary lung cancer. Primary lung cancer contains small cell cancer and non small cell cancer including squamous cell and adenocarcinoma. The secondary lung cancer includes those areas to where the lung cancer has spread. 

Is this cancer malignant?

Yes, lung cancer is also malignant. In the later stages, this type of cancer can spread to several other organs like lymph nodes, adrenal glands, liver, bones and brain.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of lung cancer vary from individual to individual and in different stages of the cancer. But some symptoms are seen in almost all cases of lung cancer:

  • Persistent cough. 
  • Blood tinged sputum. 
  • Hoarse voice. 
  • Difficulty in breathing. 
  • Clubbing of fingers. 
  • Generalized symptoms of cancer like fever, malaise, weight loss and loss of energy. 

What are the treatment options

The choice of treatment depends on a number of factors like type of cancer, stage of metastasis, generalized condition of patient etc. The basic aim of treatment is to either totally eradicate the tumor or limit its further spread. Total eradication is possible only if the cancer is diagnosed in the early stages. Once the cancer has spread to other organs, it becomes difficult, and in some cases impossible, to totally eradicate the cancer. The basic aim of treatment in that case is to prevent the further spread and damage caused by the cancer. The treatment options include:

  1. Surgery is the first choice if the tumor is diagnosed in early stages. In this procedure a part of lung is permanently removed. Surgery is not done in the case of small cell cancer, in the case of poor patient health or if the patient has some kind of respiratory disorders like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 
  2. Radiotherapy is the 2nd line of defense when it comes to the treatment of any cancer. This therapy uses high energy beams to eradicate cancerous cells. This therapy is done in case of small cell and non small cell cancers. This therapy is effective only when the spread of tumor is minimal i.e. to the adjoining lymph nodes. 
  3. Chemotherapy is the 3rd line of defense. This is effective when there is extensive metastasis of cancerous cells. The use of therapy in this case is to prolong the life of patient as much as possible. Chemotherapy kills all rapidly dividing cells of body including cancerous cells and normal cells like hair and GIT cells. That’s why baldness and GIT upset is a common side effect of chemotherapy.  
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Written by: Michal Vilímovský (EN)
Education: Medical student, 3rd Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
Published: January 11, 2014 11:52 PM
Next scheduled update: January 11, 2016 11:52 PM
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