Even though it is not always easy to tell if you have cancer before being diagnosed by a doctor, there are certain warning signs that you should pay attention to. The survival rate of cancer is much higher if the disease is diagnosed earlier because that is when the treatment works best.
However, these signs don’t always indicate cancer but that does not mean you shouldn’t take them very seriously. You should pay close attention to them and then visit your doctor if you notice anything strange and unusual.
There are over 200 cancer types, the most common being lung, breast, prostate, bladder, ovarian, kidney (renal), colorectal, endometrial and pancreatic cancer, as well as leukemia and melanoma. For most of these types of cancer, the survival rate is poor, especially for lung cancer. The reason is the late detection when the cancer is already in advanced stage, which impedes the treatment process.
Take a look at some of the most common signs and symptoms of cancer. In case you experience them, make sure you address them properly.
1. Unexplained Weight Loss
This is one of the initial noticeable cancer signs, especially for solid tumor cancers like lung and breast cancer. Once the cancer reaches the liver and disrupts its functioning associated with removing toxins and regulating appetite, it causes weight loss. But this can as well be a warning sign of digestive types of cancer, like colon cancer.
40% of all cancer patients report this warning sign at the time of diagnosis
up to 80% of advanced cancer cases are experiencing cachexia (general ‘wasting’) and unexplained weight loss
Losing weight by watching your diet or exercising is normal. In all other cases, losing up to 10% of your weight, or up to 10 pounds a month in a 6-month span is likely a cause for concern.
2. Fatigue and Weakness
If your fatigue and weakness don’t disappear even when you rest or get more sleep, consult your doctor ASAP since it might be a warning symptom of many cancers.
3. Frequent Fevers or Infections
In most cases, fever is a sign that your body fights an infection. However, if it’s a prolonged or persistent one, it might indicate a cancerous condition, like lymphoma. Also, the cancer of the blood cells, leukemia, can cause signs such as fever, frequent infections, aches, fatigue, and other flu-related signs.
4. Shortness of Breath or Wheezing
Shortness of breath and wheezing can indicate various conditions, including lung cancer. Wheezing might be caused by a lung tumor pressing against and narrowing an airway.
5. Chronic cough and Chest Pain
Sometimes, lung cancer and leukemia symptoms mimic a bronchitis or a bad cough. The problem might appear occasionally, or be persistent. These symptoms can also be followed by chest pain extending down the arm, or into the shoulder. In such cases, make sure you make an appointment with a doctor as soon as you can. In addition, if you cough and your voice is hoarse more than 6 weeks, consult your doctor. There are cases when hoarse voice indicates thyroid, lung, esophageal, or laryngeal cancer.
Frequent bloating for no apparent reason and over a longer period of time, might indicate ovarian cancer, especially if it is accompanied by swelling in the abdomen, pelvic pain, and feeling of fullness. Similarly, bloating or pain in the stomach after eating might indicate a stomach cancer.
7. Chronic Heartburn
Usually, heartburn is a sign of acid reflux. However, persistent heartburn might be related to esophageal cancer or Barrett’s esophagus. In May 2012, the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology has published a study which explains that chronic heartburn can cause inflammation of the tissue lining in the esophagus that in turn raises the risk of esophageal cancer.
Furthermore, in 2013, the American Journal of Cell Physiology has published the research conducted by scientists at Rhode Island Hospital, which explains the link between Barrett’s esophagus and the esophageal cancer development.
8. Bowel Issues
Four-week or longer lasting unexplained changes in the bowel habits can indicate bowel cancer, especially in older people. In such cases, consult your doctor.
9. Difficulty Swallowing
Problems with swallowing, or feeling chunks of food stuck in your chest or throat that worsen with time, might indicate throat or esophageal cancer. Other warning signs of these types of cancer include burning sensation or pain when swallowing food. In most cases, esophageal cancer doesn’t show any initial symptoms, so don’t ignore these if they do appear. Problems with swallowing can also be one of the initial warning signs of lung cancer.
This condition is characterized by yellowing the whites of the eyes and the skin. Typically, jaundice is a symptom of gallbladder or liver disease, but it can as well be a sign of pancreatic cancer which disrupts the functioning of liver and bile duct.
11. Unusual Swelling or Lumps
If you notice a strange lump on your groin, testicle, breast, underarm, abdomen, neck, or any other part of your body that lasts for 3 weeks or more, make an appointment with your doctor ASAP. Sometimes, a lump or enlarged lymph node under the arm can indicate breast cancer, Swollen, red and sore breasts can be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer.
12. New or Changing Moles or Skin Spots
Although most skin changes are not dangerous and don’t cause pain, doctors recommend screening for cancer if you notice:
-new spots, growths, or sores on the skin that don’t heal
-changes in color, symmetry, diameter, or border of your existing mole
13. Nail Changes
Although strange changes in your fingernails can appear for many reasons, they can also be warning signs of skin, lung, or liver cancer.
-brown or black spots under fingernails can be a sign of skin cancer
-enlarged ends of the nails (clubbing of the toes or fingers) can be linked with lung cancer. This problem is caused by conditions which lower the amount of oxygen in the blood
-white or pale nails can indicate poor functioning of the liver caused by many diseases, such as liver cancer
14. Abdominal or Pelvic Pain
Lower abdominal or pelvic pain followed by pelvic heaviness and changes in the bowel habits can indicate ovarian cancer. The chances of developing this type of cancer are higher in:
-women with a family history of ovarian, colorectal, or breast cancer
-women who have never been pregnant
-women diagnosed with colon, breast, uterine, or rectal cancer
In addition, pain in the pelvic area might indicate leukemia or uterine cancer.
15. Unusual Pain Lasting Longer than 4 Weeks
Pains and aches can be caused by numerous reasons. However, pain occurring for no apparent reason which comes and go, or stays for a period of 4 weeks or more, needs to be checked by a doctor as it may indicate testicular or bone cancer.
16. Abnormal Bleeding
Besides being a sign of a urinary tract infection, blood in the urine can also indicate kidney or bladder cancer. In the same way, blood in stools can indicate bowel cancer, although it is a typical sign of hemorrhoids. Signs of uterine or endometrial cancer include bleeding after menopause or between periods. Although rarely, sometimes vaginal bleeding can indicate vaginal cancer. Similarly, one of the warning signs of colorectal cancer is bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract.
Excessive and persistent bruising and bleeding might be a warning symptom of leukemia. Coughing or vomiting blood can indicate lung and esophageal, or stomach cancer respectively. Although the reason for abnormal bleeding is not cancer in most cases, it can indicate other serious conditions and diseases that require proper medical examination. Besides doing the recommended cancer screenings and regular health check-ups, make sure you pay attention to the symptoms described in this post.