A man talks with his doctor at a regular screening.
In the cancer fight, regular screenings can increase your chances of catching problems early. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Cancer of the prostate, lungs and colon are the three most common types of cancer men face today.

And although there are no guarantees, the best line of defense is built upon knowledge, early detection and regular screening, said Donald Kim, MD, FACS, a colorectal surgeon and key member of the Spectrum Health Cancer Center.

Prostate cancer

The toll of prostate cancer alone is considerable: It’s responsible each year for more than 26,000 deaths and about 181,000 new cases.

For reasons that remain unclear, the risk of prostate cancer is 70 percent higher in African Americans than in non-Hispanic whites, Dr. Kim said.

There are no early symptoms, but in more advanced cases, signs may include: difficulty urinating; weak or interrupted flow, sometimes with pain or blood; and a frequent need to go.

The risk factors include increasing age, African ancestry and family history.

Lung cancer

Also on the list for men is lung cancer, which claims about 86,000 lives annually. There are about 118,000 new cases of lung cancer each year, making it the second most common cancer diagnosed in men.

In fact, it remains the leading cause of cancer death in men, Dr. Kim said.

Symptoms of lung cancer may not appear until the disease is advanced. These include persistent cough, sputum streaked with blood, chest pain, voice change, worsening short­ness of breath and recurrent pneumonia or bronchitis.

Colon cancer

The bad news: Colon cancer is responsible for more than 26,000 deaths each year, with nearly 71,000 new cases diagnosed annually.

The good news: Colon cancer rates have been decreasing since the mid 1980s because men are smoking less, using fewer nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and undergoing more regular screening from age 50 onward.

In its early stages colon cancer doesn’t usually have symptoms, but more advanced indications can include rectal bleeding; blood in the stool; changes in bowel habits; abdominal cramping; decreased appetite; and weight loss, according to Dr. Kim.

While the risk of colon cancer increases with age, Dr. Kim said, other risk factors include obesity, physical inactivity, long-term smoking, high consumption of red or pro­cessed meat, low calcium intake, moderate to heavy alcohol consumption and very low intake of fruit and vegetables.

One of the biggest factors in all three cancers is smoking, which should be avoided altogether, Dr. Kim said.

Ultimately, it’s up to the individual to minimize possible risk factors and remain proactive with regular screenings and checkups.

“Review your circumstances with your primary care doctor,” Dr. Kim said. “Screening generally should start in the 50-year-old range, but that may vary depending upon a man’s family history, personal history and if he smokes.”