15 Early Signs of Cancer
Cancer is a group of diseases which can bring about a number of signs and symptoms. Depending on the location of the cancer, along with its size and impact on affected organs, these symptoms may sometimes be general in nature or may appear specific to a particular organ or tissue.
With its growth, cancer starts to push on organs, nerves and blood vessels in the vicinity causing different symptoms. The treatment works best if the cancer is detected early, so here is a look at some symptoms of cancer, some of which can seem general while others are more specific to certain types of cancers:
- Unexplained weight loss
This is a generic symptom for many health conditions. Having said that, it is noteworthy that most individuals with cancer will lose weight at some point. Weight loss that happens for no apparent reason should always be taken into account and checked by a medical professional.
In the case of cancer, an unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or greater could be one of the first apparent signs of the condition. Most often, this can happen to individuals suffering from stomach, pancreas, esophagus or lung cancers.
Another general symptom of cancer can be experiencing fever, but his typically occurs after the cancer has spread from where it originated. For the most part, almost everyone with cancer will experience fever at one time or another, particularly if the cancer or its treatment impacts the body’s immune system.
Since an impaired immune system makes it more challenging to ward off infection, compromised immunity makes the individual more susceptible to fever. While for most people fever may be a later symptom of their condition, for some others it may be an initial sign of cancer, especially in case of blood cancers like lymphoma or leukemia.
Fatigue refers to experiencing extreme exhaustion that does not go away with rest. Fatigue should not be overlooked as it may be an important symptom as the cancer progresses.
In some cases, extreme exhaustion may happen earlier on, such as in individuals with leukemia, or other cancers affecting the blood. Likewise, certain stomach or colon cancers can also cause blood loss to occur which may not be obvious. This is another scenario where fatigue can be a symptom of cancer.
In a lot of cases, pain can be an early symptom of cancer. This is especially true with cancers such testicular cancer or bone cancer. Keeping pain in perspective, a headache which does not subside with rest or treatment could be an indication of a brain tumor, just as back pain may be suggestive of colon, ovary or rectal cancer.
It is important to note that not all types of cancers will present pain as an initial symptom. On the contrary, pain caused by cancer will only be experienced after it has already spread from where it originally started.
- Skin changes
Skin cancer is not the only type of cancer that can bring about changes in the skin’s appearance. In fact, other types of cancers can also trigger skin changes such as darker looking skin or hyperpigmentation, yellowish eyes and skin or jaundice and reddened skin or erythema.
Skin may also become excessively itchy because some type of cancers produce substances that cause itching while some treatments can also make skin itchy. In some other cases, abnormal hair growth may be detected on skin.
- Changes in bladder function or bowel habits
Colorectal cancer is often typified by long term diarrhea, constipation, or changes in the size of stool. Colon cancer can originate in any section of the colon while rectal cancer impacts the rectum. When sudden changes such as frequent diarrhea or recurrent constipation occur with constant abdominal pain or gas, a checkup should be administered by a health care professional.
At the same time, urinary incontinence may be an indication of prostate cancer. Factors like urinary leaks, the inability to urinate despite the urge to go, and blood in the urine should not be ignored.
If there are sores which don’t heal easily, and persist for a long time, it could be a possible symptom of cancer. Certain types of skin cancers can develop such sores that bleed continually and do not heal. Or a long standing sore in the mouth may potentially be a case of oral cancer. This can be particularly applicable to individuals who chew tobacco, smoke or are heavy drinkers.
Likewise, non-healing sores found on the genitalia may be indicative of an early stage cancer and should be checked by a healthcare professional.
- White patches in the mouth
White spots found on the tongue or white patches in the mouth may be indicative of leukoplakia. This is a precancerous area that is caused by recurrent irritation. The patches become thickened on the gums, inside of cheeks and the bottom of the mouth. The most common causes are tobacco use or smoking and individuals who use spit tobacco or smoke pipes are at a high risk for developing leukoplakia.
If the condition remains undiagnosed and untreated, it can develop into mouth cancer.
- Unusual bleeding or discharge
Unexpected bleeding may occur at any stage of cancer, including the early or advanced stage. For instance, coughing up blood could be indicative of lung cancer, or blood found in the stool may be linked to the presence of colorectal cancer. On the other hand, blood found in the urine could indicate kidney or bladder cancer.
In women, abnormal vaginal bleeding could potentially be a symptom of cervix or endometrial cancer while a bloody discharge from the nipple could be indicative of breast cancer.
- Lumps in different body parts
Many times cancerous growths may be felt through the skin. The growths are identifiable by thickening lumps beneath the skin and are usually found in the lymph nodes, breast, testicles or other soft tissues.
The thickening or lump could both be an early or advanced sign of cancer and needs to be reported immediately to a doctor. Breast cancer is often diagnosed based on the presence of lumps, however, sometimes the cancer also comes up as red or thickened skin instead of a lump.
- Difficulty swallowing
Long standing swallowing problems could present the possibility of esophageal cancer. The same could also be linked to cancers of the throat or stomach. The difficulty swallowing could be caused by a tumor blocking the throat or esophagus and present the feeling that the food is sticking to the throat.
Individuals may also experience trouble moving the food down from the mouth to the throat or the food may get stuck in the cheeks.
- Changing warts, moles or freckles
Any obvious skin growth such as warts or moles that change in size, color or shape or lose their sharp border need to be examined by a professional right away. Such skin changes may be melanomas, which if detected earlier, can be treated successfully.
A condition known as squamous cell carcinoma often looks like warts and can appear as open sores with a raised border and a crusted surface. This is a common type of skin cancer which is not usually life threatening but can be aggressive in some cases.
- Hoarseness or nagging cough
Hoarseness of voice could be caused by cancer of the larynx where the tumor presses on nerves travelling to the vocal cords. A cough that refuses to go away may be a sign of lung cancer. A chronic cough is often associated with this type of cancer at the time of diagnosis.
The cough may be dry, or the individual may cough up mucus. At the same time the cough will likely be accompanied by other lung cancer symptoms such as coughing up blood, shortness of breath and some chest pain.
Heartburn that does not go away or gets worse could point to the possibility of cancers of the stomach, throat or even ovaries. Chronic acid reflux can result in long term complications if left untreated and could become the precursor to esophageal cancer, also considered a silent cancer.
Esophageal cancer is so called because its symptoms are often overlooked and mistaken for other conditions. In relation to heartburn, the constant exposure to stomach acid can cause cells in the esophageal lining to change and incline them to the precancerous condition called Barret’s esophagus.
Individuals most likely to experience breathing problems are those with lung cancer, mesothelioma or any other type of cancer that may have spread to the lungs. These can include breast cancer and bowel cancer that diffuses to the lungs as well.
People with lung cancer often complain of their inability to do most basic tasks due to the shortness of breath. This happens given the obstruction that is created in the air passageways due to damage done to the lungs.