The 2nd Most-Common Killer Of Men—and How You Can Avoid It

The average man is expected to die nearly 5 years earlier than the average woman, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The health of men remains a vital concern in our country, especially since many guys put their own wellbeing on the back burner.

In fact, more than 1 in 5 guys have not seen any kind of health professional in over a year, a report from the National Center for Health Statistics found.

This year, we’re shining a spotlight on the 7 most common man-killers. We’ll report on one every single day. Learn what can raise your risk and how to protect yourself from them—so you don’t become another statistic.

Man-Killer #2: Cancer

Cancer accounts for 22.5 percent of all male deaths, making it the second leading cause of mortality for them, according to CDC data.

Each year, over 311,000 men die from the condition—that’s over three times the number of those killed by the #3 cause of death for men, accidental injury.

While cancer deaths really begin to surge when men reach their 40s, what you do earlier in life—the habits you cultivate in your 20s and 30s—are instrumental in raising or lowering your cancer risks, says Elizabeth Platz, Sc.D., deputy chair of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

That’s particularly true when it comes to the leading causes of cancer deaths for men—lung, prostate, and colorectal cancers, she says.

#1: Lung Cancer

More men will die from lung cancer than any other form of it. In 2016, nearly 86,000 men will die from cancers of the lung and bronchus—the airways to the lungs— according to estimates from the American Cancer Society (ACS).

What Raises Your Risk
It’s no surprise that cigarettes are your lungs’ nemesis.

But you’re also at elevated risk for lung cancer if you work in construction, plumbing, roofing, or other building trades that might expose you to carcinogens like asbestos or radon, says David Madtes, M.D., director of the Lung Cancer Early Detection and Prevention Clinic at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Factors to Watch For
Smokers and former smokers can look to something called “pack years” to help gauge their risk.

That number is calculated by multiplying the number of cigarette packs smoked per day by the number of years you have smoked.

Doctors usually consider “heavy smoking”—the group at highest risk of lung cancer—as 30 pack years or more. So that could mean smoking one pack a day for 30 years, or 2 packs a day for 15 years, for example.

How to Keep Yourself Safe
Quit smoking—the sooner the better.

A 2013 New England Journal of Medicine study found those who quit before age 40 reduced their risk of death from smoking by 90 percent.

If your job puts you at risk, wear a respirator and protective clothing to keep carcinogens out of your lungs and off your skin, Dr. Madtes says.

And current or former smokers might also benefit from certain screening tests to catch cancer early when it’s more treatable.

For men 55 and older who’ve smoked a total of 30 pack years, a chest CT scan is recommended, he says.

#2: Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among men. In 2016, an estimated 26,100 men will die from it, according to ACS estimates.

What Raises Your Risk
Your weight and your genes can predispose you to it.

Researchers from Harvard found a man’s risk for prostate cancer jumps 15 percent for every 5-unit rise in his body mass index (BMI).

That might be because fat is “metabolically active,” and may drive the kind of immune activity and inflammation that acts as fuel for cancer cells, says Platz.

Your family history—particularly if your father or grandfather had prostate cancer—is also a strong predictor of prostate cancer risk, says Larry Lipshultz, M.D., a surgeon and professor of urology at Baylor College of Medicine.

Factors to Watch For
Your results on something called the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test— which looks at your blood levels of a specific protein produced by your prostate—can provide helpful information.

Elevated levels of that protein can be a red flag for prostate cancer, Dr. Lipshultz explains.

But it’s controversial. National guidelines used to recommend the PSA test for every man over 50, and also for those over 40 with a family history of the disease, he says.

Lately, however, there have been questions raised about whether cancer “over diagnosis” based on the PSA test has caused more harm than good.

“Talk to your doctor,” Dr. Lipshultz says. He or she can help you determine whether the test is the right option for you.

How to Keep Yourself Safe
Losing weight is one of the top recommended ways to reduce your risk.

“Men who have more body fat are more likely to develop and die of prostate cancer,” Platz says. “The higher your BMI, the higher the risk.”

That means a proper diet and regular exercise are vital in protecting against prostate cancer—as they are to keep you safe from other kinds of deadly conditions, too.

#3: Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths among men. In 2016, an estimated 26,000 men will die from cancers of the colon and rectum.

What Raises Your Risk
People who are overweight or obese, physically inactive, suffer from certain inflammatory bowel disorders, or who smoke seem to be at higher risk of the condition.

A diet super heavy in processed or smoked meats—think salami and sausage—and excessive red meat consumption appear to raise a man’s risks, says Alok Khorana, M.D., chair of oncology research at Cleveland Clinic.

Factors to Watch For
Genetics also play a role, Dr. Kohrana says. So if you have family members who developed the cancer, you may be more likely to get it, too.

Even if you don’t have a family history, the symptoms of colorectal cancer can be telling: If you notice things like changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, blood in your stool, or unexplained weight loss, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

How to Keep Yourself Safe
Starting at age 50, all men should schedule a colonoscopy, Dr. Khorana says.

Colorectal cancer often begins as a “polyp,” a kind of pre-cancerous lesion that forms in the lining of your colon.

If spotted and removed early—a simple procedure performed during your colonoscopy—polyps don’t transform into cancer, Dr. Khorana says.

Because they suffer from higher rates of cancer, African American men should start that screening process at age 45.

Also, if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, begin screening 15 years before the age at which your youngest relative developed the disease, he adds.

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