Cancer is a disease characterized by uncontrolled, abnormal cell growth that can invade and spread to other parts of the body if not detected early. While there are over 200 different types of cancer, they share some common signs and symptoms that are important to recognize.
Catching cancer early significantly improves the chances of successful treatment and survival, so being aware of changes in your body is critical.
Let’s cover nine potential symptoms of cancer that should prompt further investigation and medical advice.
- Unexplained Weight Loss
Unexplained weight loss is one of the first potential signs of cancer. Losing a significant amount of weight without trying and without any changes in diet or exercise habits could indicate an underlying malignancy.
It typically happens gradually, over months. This unintentional weight loss is most commonly associated with cancers of the pancreas, stomach, esophagus, or lungs and stems from abnormal metabolism and diminished appetite that develops as the cancer grows.
Evaluating other symptoms and getting appropriate testing and scans can help determine if cancer is the cause of unexplained weight loss.
- Chronic Cough or Hoarseness
A persistent cough lasting longer than a month or noticeable hoarseness for over two weeks can be potential symptoms of lung cancer, especially in smokers.
The chronic cough often results from lung tumors irritating nerves and airways, while a hoarse or raspy voice can arise from changes to the vocal cords, which might be caused by swelling, lesions, or even paralysis due to cancers along the airway.
Moreover, some specific cancers like mesothelioma can sometimes appear with symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, or even pleural effusion (fluid buildup around the lungs.
If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, it’s essential to access reliable information and guidance. In this case, platforms like www.mesotheliomahope.com can prove to be an invaluable resource. It offers specialized information and comprehensive support to guide patients through diagnosis and treatment pathways.
A fever that persists day after day without any clear infection or other underlying cause may point to cancer. Fevers are a sign of inflammation, and cancer can cause fevers as the immune system detects and attacks malignant cells. White blood cells release pyrogens in response to threats, raising body temperature.
Fevers resulting from cancer also tend to come and go, with body temperature spiking on some days but not others. This intermittent pattern, rather than a consistently high temperature, is characteristic.
When fevers occur along with drenching night sweats, it is especially important to seek medical evaluation. Identifying the root cause of prolonged unexplained fevers through blood tests and imaging can detect cancer early when it is most treatable.
- Skin Changes
Unusual skin changes may be a sign of cancer. One example is jaundice, which causes yellowing of the skin and eyes. This occurs when liver cancer obstructs the bile duct, preventing bile from reaching the intestines.
Skin cancers like melanoma also often have visible skin changes in the form of unusual moles or lesions. Other skin changes like excessive dryness, severe itching, or rashes can signal blood cancers like leukemia or cancers of the colon, breasts, or lungs.
Any new, changing, or unusual skin marks should be examined promptly by a dermatologist or other physician. Catching concerning skin changes early leads to better outcomes.
- Changes in Bowel Habits
Alterations in bowel habits, such as constipation, diarrhea, narrow stools, the sensation of incomplete evacuation, or other changes, can signify colon cancer. Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool can also occur with colon cancer, appearing maroon or bright red.
While these symptoms are commonly caused by benign conditions like hemorrhoids, new or persistent changes warrant medical evaluation. Earlier diagnosis and treatment of colon cancer leads to improved prognosis and survival rates. Doctors can perform tests like colonoscopies to examine the colon when bowel habit changes persist.
- Difficulty Swallowing
Difficulty or pain when swallowing, known medically as dysphagia, can indicate cancers of the esophagus, throat, or head and neck region. It may feel as though food is stuck in the chest or throat when swallowing. This happens when a tumor partially obstructs the esophagus or when cancer alters the muscles involved in the swallowing mechanism.
Difficulty swallowing can lead to avoidance of solid foods and weight loss. Getting evaluated promptly when swallowing problems arise is key, as the condition tends to worsen without treatment. Testing often includes endoscopies, imaging scans, and biopsies.
- Unusual Bleeding or Bruising
Unusual bleeding or easy bruising can occur with certain cancers, most commonly leukemia and other blood cancers. Leukemia causes dysfunctional platelets and impaired blood clotting factors, allowing excessive bruising, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, and tiny reddish-purple spots on the skin called petechiae.
Cancers can also erode blood vessel walls, leading to severe internal bleeding. Hematochezia or blood in the stool may indicate colon, anal, or rectal cancers. Blood in the urine, called hematuria, can signify bladder or kidney cancers. Prompt evaluation of unusual bleeding by an oncologist is recommended.
- Bloating or Abdominal Swelling
Persistent bloating, abdominal swelling, fullness, or a feeling of pressure in the abdomen can signal ovarian, uterine, stomach, pancreatic, or other abdominal cancers. As tumors grow, they can press on organs and retain fluid, causing distension.
Ascites, or fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity, also lead to swelling. Abdominal enlargement from cancer tends to come on gradually and continue despite dietary modifications.
Any unexplained abdominal swelling that persists should be evaluated medically. Imaging tests and a physical exam can help discern the cause.
Headaches are widespread, but those that are severe, persistent, or worsening can be a sign of brain cancer. Cancerous tumors in the brain can provoke headaches by increasing intracranial pressure, pressing on nerves and blood vessels, or blocking cerebrospinal fluid flow. However, most headaches, even severe migraines, are not associated with brain cancer. Still, any unusual headache patterns or those accompanied by other neurological symptoms like vision changes warrant medical evaluation.
Doctors can order imaging tests like MRI scans to examine the brain and diagnose tumors.
Being aware of potential cancer symptoms allows for earlier detection and treatment. Symptoms like unexplained weight loss, unusual bleeding, or swallowing difficulties should never be ignored. However, these symptoms can also occur due to non-cancerous causes.
It is important to discuss any concerning or persistent symptoms with your physician. Catching cancer early greatly improves outcomes. Increased awareness of cancer signs leads to earlier diagnosis, higher survival rates, and better quality of life after treatment.