According to various studies, women often ignore these common indicators of cancer!
The most common cancers in 2016 are projected to be breast cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, prostate cancer, colon and rectum cancer, bladder cancer, melanoma of the skin, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, thyroid cancer, kidney and renal pelvis cancer, leukemia, endometrial cancer, and pancreatic cancer.
Being able to recognize early warning signs of cancer might be able to save a life! It is important to stay informed, so here are 15 early warning signs of cancer that women shouldn’t ignore.
Most breast lumps aren’t cancer, but your doctor should always check them.
Marleen Meyers, MD, an oncologist at NYU Langone Medical Center says that women are natural bloaters.
But she also says that If your symptoms don’t get better with time, or if they happen with weight loss or bleeding, see a doctor.
Constant bloating can sometimes mean ovarian cancer. You’ll have a pelvic exam as well as blood tests, and sometimes an ultrasound.
If you’re still getting periods, tell your doctor if you’re spotting them.
Bleeding that’s not a part of your usual monthly cycle can have many causes, but your doctor will want to rule out endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of your uterus).
If you dread your period because you have such heavy menstrual bleeding, talk with your doctor. There are many effective treatments for excessive bleeding (menorrhagia).
Signs and symptoms of menorrhagia may include:
- Soaking through one or more sanitary pads or tampons every hour for several consecutive hours
- Needing to use double sanitary protection to control your menstrual flow
- Needing to wake up to change sanitary protection during the night
- Bleeding for longer than a week
- Passing blood clots larger than a quarter
- Restricting daily activities due to heavy menstrual flow
- Symptoms of anemia, such as tiredness, fatigue or shortness of breath
When to see a doctor
Seek medical help before your next scheduled exam if you experience:
- Vaginal bleeding so heavy it soaks at least one pad or tampon an hour for more than two hours.
- Bleeding between periods or irregular vaginal bleeding
- Any vaginal bleeding after menopause
A change in the size, shape, or color of a mole or other spot is a common sign of skin cancer.
Skin changes color usually because there’s something going on in the body.
For example, a person may look yellow because of liver problems, blue because of breathing problems, bruised because of blood disorders, or red because of skin problems.
Changes in the skin can be due to tumor growth, sun exposure, or the side effects of treatment.
Some color changes may improve over time, while others may be long lasting.
What to look for
- Yellowish skin and/or the whites of the eyes. May also have deep orange to brown urine (pee) and/or white or clay-colored (light brown or gray-looking) stools (poop).
- Bruises or areas of blue or purple skin that have no known cause
- Very pale or blue-tinged skin, lips, or nail beds. Often with trouble breathing.
- Redness or rash on skin
- Swelling in an area that’s discolored
What the patient can do
- Clean the skin gently with warm water, gentle soap, and a soft cloth.
- Rinse the red or rash-covered area carefully and pat dry.
- Apply water-repellent salve, such as petroleum jelly or A+D® ointment. Expose the affected skin to air whenever possible.
- Protect the affected area from heat and cold.
- Wear loose-fitting, soft clothing.
- Apply medicines prescribed for skin reactions.
- Protect all of your skin from the sun. (For instance, wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and long-sleeved shirts when outside.)
- Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher on any skin exposed to the sun. Re-apply every 2 hours if in the sun, and after bathing or sweating.
Blood in Urine or Stool
Talk to your doctor if you’re bleeding from a part of your body that normally doesn’t, especially if the bleeding lasts more than a day or two,
Meyers says. Bloody stool is often from hemorrhoids, but it can also be a symptom of colon cancer. Bloody urine is usually the first sign of cancer of the bladder or kidneys, says Herbert Lepor, MD, a urologist at NYU’s Langone.
Common Causes of Blood in the Urine
The presence of blood in the urine means that bleeding is occurring somewhere in the genito-urinary tract. In men, those organs include the kidneys, ureters, the prostate gland, the bladder, and the urethra.
The most common causes of hematuria are kidney and bladder stones. Another set of major causes includes trauma to the kidney, bladder, or other parts of the genito-urinary tract.
In addition, anything from “jogger’s hematuria” that occurs after exercise, kidney disease, sexually transmitted diseases, benign prostate hypertrophy, infection of the urinary tract, tumors, and blockages, as well as some medications can cause a bleed.
Lymph Node Changes
Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped glands around the body. Most changes in them come from common infections.
But some cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma, can also cause lymph nodes to swell. It’s a good idea to see your doctor if you have a lump or swelling anywhere in your body that lasts a month or more, Meyers says.
Occasional trouble swallowing is nothing to worry about. But when it happens often, especially with vomiting or weight loss, your doctor may want to check you for throat or stomach cancer.
Random Weight Loss
Most unintended weight loss is not cancer, Meyers says. “It’s often caused by stress or your thyroid, but it can be a sign of pancreatic cancer,” she says. Stomach and lung cancers are also possible.
Your doctor may ask for a lot of tests to look for a problem, including blood tests and imaging tests, like a CT scan.
Causes of Weight Loss
There are many reasons for unexplained weight loss, some serious, and some more of a nuisance.
In older adults (over the age of 65) the most common cause is cancer, followed by gastrointestinal and psychiatric conditions.
An overview of some causes include:
- Endocrine conditions: Conditions such as hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), diabetes and Addison’s disease.
- Infections: Infections with viruses, bacteria, and parasites are not uncommon causes and include infections such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and endocarditis (infection of the heart valves).
- Cancer: Weight loss may be the first sign of blood-related cancers such as leukemias and lymphomas, or solid tumors such as lung cancer (especially adenocarcinoma of the lung), colon cancer, ovarian cancer, and pancreatic cancer. Weight loss can also occur when an early stage tumor (such as breast cancer) recurs. Around 40 percent of people with cancer state that they had experienced weight loss at the time of diagnosis and a 2018 study found that unintentional weight loss with the second highest predictor for some types of cancer.
- Intestinal problems: Such as peptic ulcer disease, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and pancreatitis.
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): COPD includes conditions such as emphysema, bronchiectasis, and chronic bronchitis.
- Eating disorders: Both anorexia nervosa and bulimia can cause weight loss, and people who are coping with these conditions may not admit to intentional weight loss.
- Poor nutrition: Due to poor food choices, or finances that limit the purchase of food (starvation).
- Medications: Nearly any medication may have weight loss as a consideration. Medications may cause weight loss directly, or cause nausea and loss of appetite leading to weight loss.
- Drug abuse: Not only street drugs such as methamphetamine but prescription medications like Adderall and over-the-counter drugs like laxatives may be abused.
- Neurological conditions: Such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Too much food, alcohol, or stress (or all three) can cause serious heartburn. Meyers suggests that you change your diet for a week or two to see if your symptoms get better.
Heartburn is actually a symptom of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and is caused by acid refluxing back into the esophagus. Risk factors include those that increase the production of acid in the stomach, as well as structural problems that allow acid reflux into the esophagus.
- Some common foods that we eat and drink, stimulate increased stomach acid secretion setting the stage for heartburn. Over-the-counter medications also may precipitate heartburn. Examples of these irritants include:
- aspirin (Bayer, etc.),
- ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Nuprin, etc.)
- Naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve)
- carbonated beverages,
- acidic juices (grapefruit, orange, pineapple)
- acidic foods (tomatoes, grapefruit, and oranges), and
- Smoking and the consumption of high-fat content foods tend to affect function of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), causing it to relax from the stomach and allow acid to reflux into the esophagus.
- A hiatal hernia where a portion of the stomach lies within the chest instead of the in abdomen, can affect the way the LES works and is a risk factor for reflux. Hiatal hernias by themselves cause no symptoms. It is only when the LES fails that heartburn occurs.
- Pregnancy can cause increased pressure within theabdominal cavity and affect LES function and predispose it to reflux.
- Obesity may also cause increased pressure in the abdomen, and thus reflux in the same way.
- Primary diseases of the esophagus can also present with heartburn as a symptom. These include, among others, scleroderma and sarcoidosis.
If you smoke, watch for white or bright-red patches inside your mouth or on your lips. Both can signal oral cancer. Ask your doctor or dentist about tests and treatment.
Having a bitter taste in your mouth is often not a serious problem, but it can interfere with your daily life and affect your diet.
Burning mouth syndrome
As the name implies, burning mouth syndrome causes a burning or scalding sensation in the mouth that can be very painful.
These symptoms can occur in one part of the mouth or all over the mouth. It can also produce a feeling of dry mouth and a bitter or metallic taste.
Burning mouth syndrome occurs in both women and men, especially in women who are going through menopause and beyond.
Sometimes burning mouth has no identifiable cause. Doctors suspect it may be due to damage to the nerves in the mouth.
It may also be linked to underlying conditions or treatments for conditions like diabetes mellitus, cancer treatment, and hormonal changes during menopause.
A fever that doesn’t go away and can’t be explained could mean leukemia or another blood cancer. Your doctor should get the details of your medical history and give you a physical exam to check for the cause.
Fever is usually associated with physical discomfort, and most people feel better when a fever is treated.
But depending on your age, physical condition, and the underlying cause of your fever, you may or may not require medical treatment for the fever alone.
Many experts believe that fever is a natural bodily defense against infection.
There are also many non-infectious causes of fever. Fever is generally not considered dangerous, but hyperthermia can cause dangerous rises in body temperature.
This can be due to an extreme temperature associated with heat injury such as heat stroke, side effects of certain medications or illicit drugs, and stroke.
With hyperthermia, the body is no longer able to control body temperature.
In children with fever, accompanying symptoms such as lethargy, fussiness, poor appetite, sore throat, cough, ear pain, vomiting, and diarrhea are important to relay to your doctor.
Talk to your doctor if your fatigue never gets better or if you have other symptoms, like blood in your stool.
Your doctor will ask for your complete medical history and give you blood tests.
Fatigue is a common symptom of many medical conditions, which range in severity from mild to serious.
It’s also a natural result of some lifestyle choices, such as lack of exercise or poor diet.
If your fatigue doesn’t resolve with proper rest and nutrition, or you suspect it’s caused by an underlying physical or mental health condition, see your doctor.
They can help diagnose the cause of your fatigue and work with you to treat it.
Change in Urination
Urinary symptoms can include frequent urination, small amounts of urine, and slow urine flow or a general change in bladder function.
These symptoms can be caused by urinary infections (usually in women) or, in men, by an enlarged prostate gland.
Frequent urination may interfere with your work, hobbies, sleep, and mood, so it’s important to talk with your doctor if you have concerns about how often and how much you urinate.
Most people can sleep through the night without having to urinate, or only need to get up once to use the bathroom.
People who have to get up multiple times at night may have a condition called nocturia.
Frequent urination is defined as urinating more often than what you consider normal.
The Cleveland Clinic defines frequent urination as urinating more than 4 to 8 times per day for healthy people who are not pregnant.
Pain can be a result of numerous conditions, but ongoing pain which is unexplained and lasts a month or longer can signal bone, brain, or other cancers.
Ask your doctor about any suspicious prolonged and unexplained pain.
Nerve pain is caused by damage to the nerve. More than 50 medical conditions, drugs, and toxins are known to cause nerve damage, including:
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
- Celiac disease
- Fabry’s disease
- Medications, including B6 (pyridoxine), isoniazid, HIV drugs, or chemotherapy
- Toxins, such as heavy alcohol use
- Autoimmune conditions, such as lupus and vasculitis
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Some cancers, such as lymphoma or myeloma
- Lyme disease
Once a nerve is damaged, it is more likely to start behaving abnormally. It may become quiet and send no information, which causes numbness. Or it may send excessive and inappropriate pain messages.
This is probably one of the most mundane and diverse symptoms on the list. There are a ton of different reasons that people cough, and more often than not they are trivial and temporary in nature.
It’s when the cough persists over the course of weeks that someone should voice concern.
If you find yourself in pain or short of breath during a cough it could be serious.
If you cough up blood, it is serious. Smokers should pay particular attention to coughing, as it’s the most typical sign of lung cancer.