Each year, approximately 26,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in Aotearoa, 14,000 of these are men. The good news is that most cancer can be treated, particularly if you seek help early. You can take action to reduce your chances of developing cancer, such as protecting your skin and having regular bowel screening tests.
The five most common cancers in New Zealand men are:
- prostate cancer
- bowel cancer
- melanoma (the most serious form of skin cancer)
- lung cancer
- blood cancer
This page gives an overview of each of these common cancers.
It also covers testicular cancer, which like prostate cancer, is unique to people with a male reproductive system.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in New Zealand, except for skin cancers. Over 4000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in Aotearoa. Most men who develop this disease do not die of it, but a cancer diagnosis can have a major impact on a man’s life.
Prostate cancer is more common in men over 50 and those with a father, brother or son who has had prostate cancer. Men with family members who have had ovarian or breast cancer may also be at higher risk of prostate cancer.
The prostate is a small gland below the bladder. It produces the fluid that mixes with sperm to make semen. Prostate cancer occurs when cells in the prostate grow abnormally and form a lump or tumour.
Symptoms of prostate cancer include:
- difficulty or pain peeing,
- peeing more often and/or
- blood in your urine or semen.
If you experience any of these signs or symptoms, have them checked by your doctor straight away. They are usually caused by conditions other than cancer, but its best to be sure.
The PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test can indicate changes in the prostate. Have a chat to your doctor about the PSA test if you are over 50 or from 40 years of age if you have a family history of prostate cancer.
Testicular cancer is a relatively rare cancer but it is the most common cancer to affect young men in Aotearoa. Māori men are more likely to be diagnosed with testicular cancer. Almost all men who develop testicular cancer will be cured, but treatment can cause infertility and sexual dysfunctions, such as difficulty keeping an erection.
People with an undescended testis and a family history of testicular cancer may be more at risk of developing this disease.
It affects the testicles (or testes), the male reproductive gland that makes sperm and hormones. Testicular cancer usually only affects one testicle, but it can grow in both.
Symptoms of testicular cancer include:
- swelling or a lump in the testicle,
- a change in the size, shape or feel of the testicle,
- a feeling of heaviness, pain, or a dull ache in the testicles or groin.
Macmillan Cancer Support in the United Kingdom have information on how to check your testicles for testicular cancer.
The second most common cancer diagnosis for men is bowel cancer.
More than 3000 bowel cancers are found each year, over half of these are in men. Most people recover from this cancer when it is found at an early stage and treated. Don’t ignore bowel symptoms and make sure to do the free screening test every two years so that bowel changes can be found early.
Causes of bowel cancer
Bowel cancer can affect people of any age, but your risk increases with age. People with an inflammatory bowel disease, polyps (adenomas) and a family history of bowel cancer are at higher risk. These risks can’t be changed, but we can do something about other risks, such as a high intake of red and processed meats, alcohol, being overweight and not active, and smoking.
Bowel cancer starts when cells in your bowel grow and change in an abnormal way. A group of abnormal cells can form a tumour. Depending on where the cancer starts, it may have a different name. If it starts in the large intestine, it is called cancer of the colon. And if it starts in the lower end of the bowel, it is called cancer of the rectum.
Symptoms of bowel cancer may include:
- bleeding from your bottom,
- blood in your poo,
- a change in bowel motions that lasts for a few weeks or more,
- weight loss,
- tummy pain,
- bloating or
Melanoma is a serious type of skin cancer that is caused by too much exposure to UV radiation from sunlight. We have one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world.
In NZ, about 40,000 men are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, and over 1,700 of these are melanomas, the more dangerous type of skin cancer. It is more common in New Zealand men than women. One of the reasons for this is likely due to the longer amount of time men spend in the sun unprotected.
Almost all men will survive melanoma when it is detected early. So remember to regularly check your skin for changes and ask someone to check parts of your body that you cannot see. We can also lower our risk of getting skin cancers by Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap.
The first sign of melanoma is often a spot, mole or lump that is new or has changed. Skin changes are not necessarily cancerous but if you notice any changes to your skin, see your doctor straight away.
If found early, melanoma can usually be removed by surgery and no further treatment is needed.
Lung cancer is cancer in part of the lungs. We use lungs to breathe. Over 2000 lung cancers are diagnosed each year (1155 males and 1189 females in 2019). Lung cancer mainly occurs in older people.
Lung cancer is a serious disease, but a lot of progress has been made in detecting and treating it. Always seek help if you have any signs or symptoms so that it can be treated as early as possible.
Causes of lung cancer
Smoking tobacco is the biggest risk factor for lung cancer. The risk is much lower in non-smokers. If you quit smoking, your risk reduces over time.
Other causes of lung cancer are air pollution and things that you can be exposed to at work, such as diesel engine exhaust, wood dust and arsenic. You may also be at higher risk if you have a family history of lung cancer or a history of chronic lung disease.
Symptoms of lung cancer can vary and can be caused by other lung conditions. Common symptoms include:
- a cough that does not go away,
- repeated chest infections,
- coughing up blood,
- a hoarse voice for 3 weeks or more,
- unexplained pain, weight loss or tiredness.
Blood cancer begins with the abnormal growth of blood cells. The abnormal blood cells behave differently from healthy blood cells.
In most cases it’s not known what causes blood cancers but risk factors may include: having a close relative with blood cancer, infection with Epstein-Barr virus and HIV. You may also be at increased risk if you are exposed to: high levels of radiation, some pesticides and chemicals at work such as benzene (in paints, glues and plastics) and formaldehyde (found in wood products)
You need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when working with chemicals and other substances that can cause cancer.
Please do not ignore signs and symptoms of blood cancers. See your health provider asap.
The three common types of blood cancer are:
Men are at greater risk of these cancers than women. Non-hodgkin lymphoma is the most common blood cancer in New Zealand men, closely followed by leukaemia.
Symptoms of blood cancer can include:
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck, groin or underarm
- frequent infections
- bone pain
- a rash and itching
- weight loss
- abnormal sweating/night sweats
- unexplained bruising
- bleeding easily.