When it comes to cancer, early diagnosis is often key in determining the type of treatment necessary and the success of the treatment. Detecting cancer in its early stages means it is most likely small and has not yet spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body, and this may make it easier to treat.
When something is amiss with your health, symptoms can act as an alert that something is not right. Unfortunately, the signs and symptoms of cancer can vary widely depending on the type of cancer, how big it is, whether or not it has spread and which tissues it affects. In some cases, cancer won’t cause any signs or symptoms until it has grown large enough to affect other nerves or organs.
Cancer can also be discovered before there are any physical symptoms, which is why cancer screenings are an important preventive health measure.
Signs and symptoms of cancer
Note that having any of the following signs or symptoms does not mean you have cancer, as they can be caused by many other health concerns. However, if you have these symptoms for a prolonged period of time, or if they worsen with time, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to discuss them.
Some of the general signs and symptoms of cancer that affect both men and women include:
Unexplained weight loss: Losing weight for no apparent reason (no changes in diet or exercise habits) can be a sign that something is not right with your body. Unexplained weight loss is common with some cancers, such as cancer of the pancreas, stomach, esophagus or lungs.
Fever: A fever is common with many illnesses and, while common with cancer, it often appears after the cancer has spread. In some cases, fever may be an early sign of cancer, when the cancer affects the immune system, such as with blood cancers like leukemia or lymphoma.
Fatigue: The definition of fatigue is general tiredness that does not improve with rest. It may occur early in some cancers, such as leukemia, or in cancers that cause blood loss, such as colon or stomach cancer.
Pain: Often an early symptom of cancer, pain is common with cancers like bone cancer or testicular cancer. A brain tumor can cause a headache that does not go away with treatment. Back pain can be a symptom of colon, rectum or ovarian cancer.
Skin changes: Some cancers affect the way the skin appears and may cause the skin to look darker, yellowish or reddened. Itching or excessive hair growth may also be a sign of cancer.
Some symptoms are associated with certain cancers. These include:
- Bladder or prostate cancer can cause a change in bowel habits or bladder function.
- Skin cancers may look like sores that don’t heal, while a long-lasting sore in the mouth could be a sign of oral cancer.
- Mouth cancer can cause white patches inside the mouth or white spots on the tongue.
- Lung cancer can cause a nagging cough or cause one to cough up blood.
- Colon or rectal cancer may cause blood in the stool.
- Bladder or kidney cancer may cause blood in the urine.
- Cancers occurring in the breast, testicle or lymph nodes often cause a lump or thickening that can be felt through the skin.
- Cancer of the esophagus, stomach or throat may cause difficulty swallowing.
- Melanoma may cause changes in skin or an existing wart, mole or freckle.
- Hoarseness may be a sign of cancer of the larynx or thyroid gland.
Signs and symptoms of cancer women shouldn’t ignore
Breast changes: Any changes in your breasts are worth having checked by your doctor. These include lumps, skin dimpling or puckering, nipples that turn inward, nipple discharge or redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin.
Bloating: Bloating that does not get better within a week or two or bloating that occurs with weight loss or bleeding could be a sign of ovarian cancer.
Bleeding between periods: Spotting between periods could have a number of causes, including endometrial cancer.
Heartburn: Heartburn that doesn’t get better with a change in diet could mean cancer of the stomach, throat or ovaries.
Signs and symptoms of cancer men shouldn’t ignore
Problems with urination: Prostate cancer may cause difficulties with urination, including a frequent need to urinate, especially at night; dribbling, leaking or an urgent need to go; or trouble starting to urinate or a weak stream.
Changes in testicles: Testicular cancer is a fast-growing cancer, so if you notice a lump, heaviness or any other change in your testicle, do not wait to see your doctor.
Breast changes: One percent of breast cancers occur in men, so it is important that men not ignore any changes in their breasts, particularly lumps.
Heartburn: Heartburn that doesn’t get better with a change in diet could mean cancer of the stomach or throat.
If you are experiencing any of the signs or symptoms listed above, contact your primary care physician. To learn more about our approach to treating cancer, contact our oncology information specialists at (888) 492-4673.