What are the 15 common signs of cancer?
The term cancer is given to a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. These abnormal cells grow and multiply to the extent that the nutrition, oxygen and even space of the healthy cells are compromised. Cancer can develop anywhere in the body. Thus, cancer is not one disease but has many types. The types differ with the tissues involved, mode of spread in the body (metastasis) and response to therapy.
Anyone can get cancer. However, different cancers may affect people differently depending on factors, such as the age of the person, lifestyle, underlying health conditions and addictions (such as nicotine and alcohol). Apart from shortening the lifespan and causing physical symptoms, cancer also greatly affects a person emotionally and mentally.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Each year around 600,000 people die of cancer in the United States. The good news is many kinds of cancer can be prevented or diagnosed early. The early diagnosis and treatment of cancer give a better prognosis and quality of life. Symptoms of cancer may be subtle or vague, such as fatigue or headache, and often ignored. Unfortunately, most people seek medical attention only when the cancer is advanced and causes considerable difficulty in performing everyday tasks. This results in a late diagnosis. It can go to the extent when only supportive or palliative treatment is possible. Hence, one must not ignore the symptoms and seek timely medical attention as soon as they spot something amiss.
The purpose of this article is not to create unnecessary anxiety or false alarm. The aim is to make people aware that cancer can be treatable and even curable when diagnosed in a timely manner.
Some of the common signs of cancer include
- Unintended or unexplained weight loss: This is a characteristic symptom of cancer. The loss of weight occurs without any increase in physical activity or conscious efforts at reducing calorie intake. The weight loss is mainly because the rapidly dividing cancer cells take most of the nutrition while depriving the body of its nutrient needs.
- Fatigue: Cancer may make the person feel low in energy. They tend to get tired easily and report a decrease in stamina.
- Bleeding: Cancer cells are richly supplied with newly formed blood vessels (neovascularization). These new blood vessels are relatively fragile and bleed easily causing symptoms, such as blood in urine or stools, blood-stained sputum and bleeding through the vagina. Cancer may also alter the blood clotting ability of the body, which leads to bleeding at various sites in the body, including the brain.
- A mass, sore or swelling: Cancer cells may collect to form a mass or lump, such as a breast lump, lump in testes or swollen lymph nodes. A sore that does not heal may also be cancerous.
- Persistent cough: Cough that refuses to get better may be a symptom of lung cancer or cancer that has spread to the airways.
- Abdominal pain: This may typically occur in cancer originating or spreading to structures in the abdomen, such as the liver, gut or gallbladder.
- A change in bowel habits: Cancer affecting the gut may cause symptoms, such as diarrhea or constipation. Such symptoms are chronic and may not respond to medications. Sometimes, cancer is not physically present in the gut but releases various substances that can cause changes in bowel habits.
- Loss of appetite: People with cancer may have a decreased appetite and a sensation of fullness after eating even a little bit of food.
- Change in urine habits: A change in urination manifesting as frequent urination, poor urine stream or a feeling of incomplete voiding may be a sign of prostate cancer.
- Pallor: Excessive loss of blood from the body due to cancer may cause anemia. This may make the person look pale.
- Hoarseness: A change in voice may be seen in cancer affecting the voice box or the vocal cords.
- Change in the menstrual cycle: This may manifest as an irregular menstrual cycle, excessive bleeding during periods or bleeding or spotting between two periods. It is typically seen in cancer of the uterus or the cervix.
- Skin moles or warts: Cancer may cause rashes on the skin. These warts or moles may bleed or spread quickly. A newly appeared mole or itching in the previously present mole warrants investigation.
- Aches and pains: Due to pressure, cancer cells affect the nerves, causing the release of various pain-causing chemicals in the body. This may cause symptoms, such as chronic headache, backache or pains at other sites in the body.
- Fever: Cancer may be associated with the release of chemical substances (pyrogens) that raise the body’s temperature. Fever that refuses to resolve after 15 days of treatment or that is difficult to treat can be an early sign of cancer. Fever of unknown origin is often seen in blood cancers.
Medically Reviewed on 2/3/2021
American Cancer Society
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