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Cancer Signs and Symptoms

Early detection matters. Learn the symptoms of the most common cancers among older adults, including prostate, lung, breast, and ovarian cancer.

By , Caring.com senior editor
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Cancer is much more likely to be curable if the symptoms are caught early. In fact, with certain types of cancer, such as ovarian and prostate cancer, early detection can make an enormous difference in prognosis and outcome. It's worthwhile to be hypervigilant, then, in watching for cancer symptoms and aggressive about asking for screening tests and checkups to make sure you and the people you care about are in good health -- and stay that way.

Here are symptoms of some of the most common cancers in those over age 55, along with important risk factors.

Prostate cancer symptoms

  • Difficulty urinating: either trouble getting started or weak or interrupted flow
  • The need to urinate often, particularly at night
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Blood in urine or semen
  • Erection problems
  • Pain during ejaculation or difficulty ejaculating
  • Stiffness or pain in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs

Note: Many men -- more than half of those in their 60s -- suffer from benign prostatic hypertrophy, a set of symptoms similar to those for prostate cancer (in which the prostate becomes enlarged). This common condition is annoying, but it's neither a disease nor a life-threatening condition. Any male who has had prostate problems should have a regular PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test and be monitored for prostate cancer. Additional risk factors include a family history of prostate cancer or being African-American.

Breast Cancer Symptoms

  • A lump or thickening in the breast or underarm area
  • Tenderness in the breast or nipple
  • A change in breast or nipple shape
  • Nipple discharge
  • Red, swollen, or scaly skin on the breast or nipple

Note: Other factors that increase risk -- men can get breast cancer, too -- are family history (particularly breast cancer in the mother or sister), a diet high in saturated fat, obesity, early onset of menses or late menopause, being childless or being older at the birth of a first child, and taking hormones. A genetic mutation known as the BRCA gene (most common in those of Eastern European Jewish descent) greatly increases the risk of breast cancer, particularly when combined with a family history of the disease.