Health experts emphasize the importance of paying attention to warning signs and symptoms that could indicate undiagnosed cancer. If cancer is the cause, early detection by doctors greatly improves the chances of successfully treating the condition.
Though the signs and symptoms described below do not necessarily indicate cancer, do not ignore them. If you experience any of these symptoms, analyze your symptoms and get an appointment with a doctor soon.
There are more than 200 types of cancer. The most common types include lung, prostate, breast, ovarian, bladder, colorectal, kidney (renal), pancreatic, and endometrial cancers as well as melanoma and leukemia.
The survival rate for most of these cancers, especially lung cancer, is often quite poor because more often than not, they are not diagnosed until they are already in an advanced stage, making them harder to treat.
1. Unexplained weight loss
Unexplained weight loss is often one of the first noticeable signs of cancer. It is particularly common in people suffering from solid tumor cancers like breast and lung cancer.
Weight loss often occurs when a cancer spreads to the liver and impairs its functioning, especially related to regulating appetite and removing toxins. Weight loss can also be an early sign of colon or other digestive cancers.
Unexplained weight loss is so common that:
- as many as 40 percent of cancer patients report unexplained weight loss at the time of diagnosis, and
- unexplained weight loss and cachexia (general ‘wasting’) are experienced in up to 80 percent of cases of advanced cancer.
If you have not been trying to drop some pounds by exercising and watching your diet but you are losing weight anyways, consult a healthcare provider. Losing 10 pounds a month or up to 10 percent of your weight in a span of six months can be cause for concern.
2. Frequent fevers or infections
Though a fever may simply indicate that your body is fighting an infection, a persistent or prolonged fever can be a sign of a cancerous condition, such as lymphoma. Leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells, can also cause symptoms like frequent infections, fevers, fatigue, aches, and other flu-like symptoms.
3. Weakness and fatigue
Weakness and fatigue that does not diminish, even when you get more sleep and rest, should be evaluated by a doctor. It can be a sign of a variety of cancers, so you and your doctor will need to consider other symptoms as well.
4. Wheezing or shortness of breath
Though wheezing and shortness of breath can be caused by a variety of conditions, these symptoms can be associated with lung cancer too. When a tumor in a lung presses against and narrows an airway, it may lead to wheezing – a whistling sound that occurs during exhalation due to constricted airways.
5. Chronic cough and chest pain
At times, symptoms of cancers like leukemia and lung tumors can mimic a bad cough or bronchitis. The problem may persist or come-and-go in repeating cycles. There may also be chest pain extending into the shoulder or down the arm. Consult a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
Also, get yourself checked by a doctor if you have a cough and hoarse voice for more than six weeks, especially if you smoke or have smoked in the past. Occasionally, a hoarse voice may be a symptom of laryngeal, thyroid, esophageal, or lung cancer.
Unexplained abdominal bloating continuing on-and-off over a long period of time may be sign of ovarian cancer. Bloating accompanied by pelvic pain, swelling in the abdomen, and feeling full may be another tip-off to this condition. Similarly, pain or bloating in the stomach after eating can be a sign of stomach cancer.
7. Chronic heartburn
Heartburn is usually a symptom of acid reflux disease, but if it is persistent, it may be associated with Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal cancer.
A study published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology in May 2012 found that inflammation of the tissue lining in the esophagus caused by chronic heartburn may increase the risk of esophageal cancer.
Moreover, a study by researchers at Rhode Island Hospital discovered a pathway linking Barrett’s esophagus to the development of esophageal cancer. The research was published in the American Journal of Cell Physiology in 2013.
8. Bowel problems
If you notice a change in your bowel habits that lasts four weeks or longer for no obvious reason, consult your doctor as it may be a sign of bowel cancer, especially in older adults.