Men, and talking about cancer

Thursday 24 May 2018

It’s nearly November, and I’m awaiting the flurry of furry upper lips, among the men in my family. Movember is here again, and as a way of raising money for charity, and cancer awareness and discussion, it’s been a winner. 

Their goal is to reduce the number of men dying prematurely by 25%, by 2030, and raise vital funds and awareness for prostate and testicular cancer and mental health.

Talking about cancer

More importantly, it gets men talking about cancer and that can normally like wringing blood from a stone. 

Partly, I think because boys are taught from an early age to be ‘macho’, strong, and that admitting emotions or asking for help is perhaps seen as a weakness. 

Health, in particular, seems to be something men don’t talk about, unless it’s a sports injury, or incurred through some masculine pursuit.

It can also apply to talking about someone else's cancer - wives and partners often contact us frustrated that they can’t get their men to talk or open up - whereas men will be in touch to confess they don’t know what to say.

One of the biggest risk factors for cancer is the aging process. We should be pleased that the number surviving is also increasing, and caught early people have a much better chance of recovery.

I’ve noticed the charity, One for The Boys, whose campaign aims to arm men with the facts, the risks and the tools they need to tackle cancer head on. 

They recognise that men in particular tend to think they’re too busy to go to the doctor, they don’t want to talk about embarrassing ailments, or be ‘poked about’ – and think cancer won’t happen to them….

Bowel Cancer UK, perhaps following the success of Movember campaign, have a campaign during December - Decembeard - which promotes more whiskery growth, in order to highlight the UK’s second biggest cause of cancer deaths.

It’s a way of getting men involved in ‘blokey’ activities: conversation and teasing in the pub, or at work or the gym, about the success (or not) of the fuzzy faces. It opens up the cancer topic in a non threatening way.

Have you any cancer symptoms?

If you are a man reading this, and have any of the following symptoms. 

It’s not difficult to book an appointment with your GP just to get them checked out. 

They won’t think you’re a time waster, and more than likely can reassure all is well, but at least you can put the concerns behind you:-

  • Pain or difficulty having a pee (urination to use the technical term)…and/or blood in the urine…could be sign of prostate cancer
  • Testicular lumps and bumps – examine yourself monthly…any changes…get them checked out.
  • Persistent bowel problems, lots of wind, bloatedness, blood in the stools, or any change in bowel movements .
  • Nipple discharge, scaliness of skin around the nipple or lumps/bumps/ puckering on chest wall/breast area – men get breast cancer too…
  • Weight loss when you’re not on a diet – weight does fluctuate, so don’t panic, but anything more than 10 lbs or so should be reported.
  • Coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath.
  • Tiredness (fatigue) that doesn’t get better with rest.
  • Difficulty swallowing – if you find you’re opting for soup more than solids as it’s easier to manage, it’s time to get it checked out.
  • Changes in the skin…moles changing/growing/bleeding…..
  • Mouth changes..white patches in mouth or on tongue, or any persistent sore areas…

I could go on, but I suspect I’ve given you enough to think about. 

Most times, all is well, but if we women can’t nag you to get an appointment, then it’s up to you, gentlemen.

If you’d like to talk through your cancer worries, you’re welcome to drop into your nearest Maggie’s - it can be good to talk.

Originally written by Sue Long, Cancer Support Specialist, October, 2013. Updated in February 2024

How to get support at Maggie's

Our cancer support specialists, benefits advisors and psychologists are here to listen to your concerns and find the help you need.


Men and cancer  -  Cancer Research UK

Cancer facts for men  - American Cancer Society

Movember Foundation

Millions of men ‘don’t know how’ to talk about cancer symptoms, new research shows   - blog -  Macmillan Cancer Support (2016)

Helping men fight cancer  -   One for the boys

Why are men reluctant to talk about cancer?          The Guardian (Robert Ince, 2.4.14)

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