Learn how to tell the difference between common cold symptoms and signs of cancer
You never miss your annual physical.
You check your breast regularly for lumps, and your skin for new moles.
You don’t smoke; you eat well and exercise regularly.
You’re in great health, so you would know if something was wrong, wouldn’t you?
Unfortunately, cancer’s many forms manifest themselves through many symptoms. Therefore, it is imperative to recognize that some small, otherwise unexplained changes in health can be the early signs of cancer.
Provided below are some seemingly innocent symptoms that, if persistent, may signal deeper issues, such as cancer:
Breathing problems such as wheezing, shortness of breath and chronic cough
Lung cancer can be difficult to diagnose early, so recognizing early symptoms is essential. Coughing up blood is a potential symptom of lung cancer that people rarely ignore, but other subtle signs like wheezing or shortness of breath are often attributed to other causes, such as asthma or allergies. Even people who are not smokers should not ignore persistent and unexplained breathing problems, as thousands of non-smokers are diagnosed with lung cancer each year, as well as other types of cancers such as lymphomas present with similar signs.
Frequent fevers and infections
Having fevers and infections that don’t go away or occur frequently is an indicator of many cancers, including leukemia, as abnormal white blood cells begin to outnumber infection fighting normal, white blood cells. It is understandable to think it’s the flu. And it might be. But it never hurts to be sure.
Difficulty swallowing or swollen lymph nodes on the neck, underarm or groin
Many cancers can spread to lymph nodes, which are located throughout the body. If this happens, these swollen glands can increase in size and be easily felt as growing lumps. The most common areas which people can feel these lumps (which may start as small as a pea) is in the neck, arm pit or groin. Enlarged lymph nodes under the arm are a common indicator of breast cancer and should be checked immediately by your doctor. Growing lymph nodes which can’t be felt inside your chest (which may be a result of lung cancer, lymphoma or esophageal cancer) may result in difficulty swallowing or breathing.
Excessive bruising or bleeding
Everyone has a few bumps and bruises, especially those who are accident-prone. However, it can also be a sign of leukemia or other cancers, which have spread to the bone marrow resulting in a decrease in blood products necessary for clotting. Look for frequent and unexplained bruises in strange places or bleeding gums.
Weakness or fatigue
Unexplained fatigue and weakness that doesn’t respond to sleep may be a symptom of many different kinds of cancer and other diseases, so it is important to look for additional accompanying symptoms. Let your doctor know so he or she can determine if further tests are needed.
Pelvic or abdominal pain or recurring upset stomach
Abdominal pain alone can mean a number of things, including fibroids, ovarian cysts and other disorders; so doctors don’t always think of cancer as the source. Many gastrointestinal cancers can present as abdominal pain. An enlarged spleen from leukemia can cause the same feeling of pelvic pain.
Bloating or weight gain
Of course, this could be attributed to snacking on salty treats or the normal holiday bloating. However, unexplained abdominal bloating that continues on and off for a long time is a common symptom of ovarian and colon cancer.
Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
While it may seem like your prayers have been answered, unexplained weight loss is NOT something to be desired. Weight loss and loss of appetite may be a sign of many cancers, including colon and lung cancer. Other cancers affecting the digestive system, such as esophageal and gastric cancer, can affect a person’s ability to eat and digest food.
Swelling of facial features or extremities
Lung tumors and cancers that have spread to lymph nodes can block blood and lymphatic vessels in the chest, neck, arms and legs. This can cause puffiness, swelling or redness in the face, or swelling in the arms or legs.
Pain involving the back, ribs or other bones
The list of cancers that may spread to the bone is long, including prostate and breast cancer, making this a frequent problem for cancer patients. However, there are plenty of other causes of these symptoms unrelated to cancer because arthritis and chronic low back pain is so common. Still, unexplained pain, which is worsening or persistent, justifies a visit to your doctor.
Almost all cancers are easier to treat and have a higher cure rate if detected early, so being aware of changes in your general health over time is important. Fortunately, most of the 10 signs described above can usually be explained by medical conditions unrelated to cancer. But seeing your doctor early to make sure that this is true will help you sleep easier at night — and who couldn’t use that!