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What you don’t know CAN kill you: 7 things young men should do now to protect against cancer

Men in their 20s and 30s might feel invincible, but lack of knowledge and lifestyle choices in their young adult years could greatly increase their chances of developing cancer. The dangers of tobacco, overeating, heavy drinking, and a sedentary lifestyle are already well documented, and new research indicates that unsafe sex is responsible for many infections that could lead to cancer.

The reluctance of many men to visit a doctor or undergo regular physical examinations prevents their best chances for early cancer detection and effective treatment. More than 30 percent of men have not visited a doctor within the past year.

The following cancers can either occur in young adult men or are caused by harmful habits that typically begin in the late teens and early 20s:

HPV-Related Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most men (and women) who have ever had sex will have the human papillomavirus (HPV) at some point, but in most cases it is resolved with no treatment. However, the virus can cause warts, some forms of head and neck cancer, penile cancer, and anal cancer. HPV is linked to 95 percent of anal cancers. HPV-related cancers are highly treatable if diagnosed early.

Abstinence and safe sex not only protect against sexually transmitted diseases, but they also help prevent HPV-related cancers. In addition, HPV vaccines are a very effective way to prevent infection.

Testicular Cancer

Early treatment is the key to overcoming testicular cancer, which is the most common cancer found in men ages 15 to 34. Testicular cancer rates are four to five times higher for white American men than the rates for African American or Asian American men.

Although the disease is essentially unpreventable with risk factors present at birth, the survival rate is 99 percent after five years, if the testicular cancer is detected early enough before it spreads to other parts of the body. Self-examinations and consultations with physicians are the best ways to ensure early detection.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is responsible for the most cancer-related deaths in men in Texas. According to the American Lung Association, tobacco smoke is the leading cause of lung cancer cases even though the effects of the disease might not show up for years. Despite decades of warnings about the dangers of tobacco, research surveys reveal that smoking prevalence is highest among people ages 25 to 44 years (20 percent), and more males than females smoke. Over time, that trend can have a devastating effect.

Colon Cancer

A high-fat diet, obesity, diabetes, and family history of the disease raise the likelihood of developing colon cancer, which is the third-leading cancer killer of men and is among the most difficult to detect, because it lacks symptoms in early stages. Men may decrease the risk of colorectal cancer through a regular exercise schedule and a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods while limiting high-fat foods, red meat, and alcohol consumption.

Seven Things Young Adult Men Should Do Now to Prevent Cancer

Exercise regularly.

Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting intake of red meat or high-fat foods.

Avoid tobacco smoke and avoid using any form of tobacco.

Avoid heavy consumption of alcohol. Men should either abstain from alcohol or limit alcohol use to the equivalent of no more than two beers a day.

Avoid unsafe sexual practices.

Be aware of changes or unusual symptoms that could point to a problem.

Identify a preferred doctor and make appointments for regular physical examinations and regular screenings.

Regular screenings and a healthy lifestyle are essential to help avoid debilitating cancer. Clean, healthy living might not make a person the life of the party, but it certainly increases the chances of that person living longer with a higher quality of life.

Billie J. MD, FACP Marek

is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–McAllen,

1901 South 2nd Street, in McAllen, Texas.