Early detection is vital when it comes to the successful treatment of cancer, especially when it comes to particularly aggressive forms of the disease.
Many people tend to overlook early warning signs, however – either because they just don’t know what to look out for, or because they don’t want to acknowledge that something might be wrong.
When it comes to your health, knowing what to watch out for and listening to your body is always important. If you notice anything different, odd, or unexplainable, it’s important to have it checked out by a doctor as soon as possible.
Here are some early warning signs of cancer that are commonly overlooked.
1. Shortness Of Breath
Shortness of breath and wheezing can be an early sign of lung cancer, along with chest pain that gets worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing(1).
2. Chronic Coughing And Chest Pain
There are several types of cancers that can cause a chronic cough and feeling of chest pain, including leukemia, esophageal cancer, and lung cancer. If you’re experiencing chest pain that extends to the shoulder or down the arms, consult with a doctor.
3. Frequent Infections
A compromised immune system can be an early symptom of leukemia, which causes the bone marrow to produce mutated white blood cells, which depletes your body’s ability to fight off infection. If you’re experiencing frequent infections in your lungs, urinary tract, gums, and anus, as well as frequent cold sores, it might be a good idea to get tested for leukemia(2).
4. Difficulty Swallowing
Difficulty swallowing is often associated with esophageal cancer(3).
5. Swollen Lymph Nodes
Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, underarm or groin can indicate changes in your lymphatic system. But don’t panic right away if you notice that your lymph nodes are swollen – common illnesses like colds and minor infections can cause your lymph nodes to swell as well(4). If you notice that your lymph nodes have been swollen for more than a few days, you may want to seek medical attention.
6. Bruising Or Bleeding That Doesn’t Stop
Certain types of cancer and leukemia can impair your body’s ability to carry oxygen and clot blood, causing problems with excessive bleeding and bruising. If you’ve noticed that you’re bruising excessively lately or that minor cuts don’t seem to heal properly, talk to your doctor about it.
7. Excessive Fatigue
General fatigue and weakness can be a symptom of so many different illnesses that it’s generally looked at in combination with other symptoms – if you’re only experiencing fatigue, chances are it’s not cancer. But if you’re feeling exhausted despite getting plenty of rest, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor – you could have any number of conditions, from sleep apnea to chronic fatigue syndrome… or yes, even cancer.
8. Bloating Or Weight Gain
While early-stage ovarian cancer rarely causes any symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose early on, advanced-stage ovarian cancer can cause abdominal bloating or swelling, as well as a decreased appetite. If you’re eating less than usual but still gaining abdominal weight, you may have ovarian cancer(5).
9. Pelvic Or Abdominal Pain
Excessive pain and cramping in the pelvis and abdomen often accompanies the bloating that can signal ovarian cancer. Leukemia can also cause an enlarged spleed, which leads to abdominal pain(6). Stomach cramps and a chronically upset stomach can also be indicators of colon cancer.
10. Rectal Bleeding
Rectal bleeding is one of the most common indicators of colorectal cancer – if you notice blood in the toilet after a bowel movement, that is reason enough on its own to call your doctor(7).
11. Unexplained Weight Loss
When cancer spreads to your liver, it can affect your appetite and your body’s ability to eliminate waste, leading to significant weight loss.
12. Redness Or Swelling Of The Breast
Most women know to check their breasts regularly for lumps, but not everyone is aware that there are other warning signs of breast cancer that can be detected in the breasts – if your breast is sore, red, and swollen, or if you notice that the appearance of your nipple has changed significantly, talk to your doctor about it right away(8).
13. Unusual Bleeding Associated With Periods
Many women with endometrial or uterine cancer report this as one of their earliest complaints. If you are regularly bleeding between periods or the flow of your periods becomes unusually heavy, ask your doctor for a transvaginal ultrasound.
14. Facial Swelling
Certain types of cancer can cause swelling, also known as edema, in the face – one man wrote about his experience with excessive facial swelling as the result of cancer for the New York Times in 2009(9). If you notice significant swelling in your face, it could be a sign that something’s wrong.
15. Odd Skin Growths, Sores, Or Rashes
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the various different types of skin cancer – melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma – and regularly check your skin for abnormalities that could be indicators of trouble. These abnormalities include unexplained lumps, sores that don’t heal or become crusty and bleed easily, and rashes that have an unusual flaky texture to them.
16. Changes In Your Nails
Your nails are an excellent indicator of your overall health – if you notice a sudden change in the texture or color of your nails, it’s a good idea to tell your doctor right away.
17. Unexplained Pain In The Back Or Lower Right Side
Breast cancer and liver cancer can cause pain in the back, ribs, spine, and lower left side of your body – if you’re experiencing chronic pain in these areas that doesn’t go away with standard treatment, get it checked out as soon as you can.
A Preventative Approach
Many people today live with a certain amount of disconnect from their bodies, whether it’s because they live sedentary lifestyles or because of body image issues. This can lead to crucial signs and early symptoms of serious diseases, like cancer, going unnoticed for far too long.
It’s important to take a preventative approach when it comes to your health, which includes not only eating healthy and staying active, but knowing your body and taking note of it when something unusual crops up.