Early Warning Signs Cancer Is Growing Inside Your Body

Doctors predict that thousands of deaths could be avoided each year if cancer is diagnosed early on. In fact, survival rates increase by over 70% when certain types of cancer are detected quickly. Here are the key warning signs that cancer is growing inside your body, including an early symptom you must get checked out (page 10).

1. Frequent infection

A man asleep in his bed.

Your immune system might be trying to tell you something. | iStock.com

Possible cancer: leukemia or lymphoma

Cancers that affect your bone marrow frequently show in the form of infection. The marrow begins to produce abnormal white blood cells, which hinder your body’s infection-fighting abilities. Although your body can display an infection anywhere, your mouth, skin, or lungs will often show an infection first.

Next: Are you no longer tempted by chocolate or pizza?

2. Loss of appetite

A woman sitting in front of a bowl of cereal.

You might have lost your appetite. | Lolostock/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Possible cancer: ovarian, stomach, pancreatic, or colon

A lack of appetite and feeling full without eating are key signs of ovarian cancer. Stomach, pancreatic, and colon cancers can also put pressure on your stomach and make you feel too full to eat. Consult with your physician if you notice a change in your appetite that lasts two weeks or longer.

Next: Dark marks in all the wrong places

3. Excessive bruising

A doctor sitting with a patient in an office.

If you are concerned about bruises, let your doctor know. | iStock.com

Possible cancer: leukemia

Finding a bruise following a fall isn’t a reason to worry. But if you notice bruises popping up consistently or in strange places (think hands, fingers, and toes), you may need to check with your doctor. Leukemia cells block red blood cells, hindering their ability to carry oxygen, which leads to blood clotting, according to Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

Next: Does stepping on the scale utterly confuse you?

4. Unexplained weight loss or gain

A person stepping on a white scale.

Your appetite can say a lot about your current state of health. | Ensuria/iStock/Getty Images

Possible cancer: liver, esophagus, lungs, pancreas, stomach, or ovarian

According to the ACS, many undiagnosed patients unexpectedly lose 10 or more pounds as the very first sign of cancer. As cancer cells begin to attack healthy ones, your body may respond by losing weight. Weight loss is prominent in cancers of the liver, esophagus, lungs, pancreas, and stomach. Conversely, ovarian cancer patients report unexplained stomach weight gain or bloating.

Next: Cancer could grab you by the throat.

5. Indigestion and difficulty swallowing

Woman lying on couch with hand on stomach suffering from a stomachache.

Watch out for these signs. | Champja/iStock/Getty Images

Possible cancer: esophagus, stomach, or throat

Dysphagia, the term for difficulty swallowing, is the most common sign of esophageal cancer. The ACS explains you may be unknowingly adapting to dysphagia and ignoring early signs of throat cancer. “When swallowing becomes harder, people often change their diet and eating habits without realizing it … As the cancer grows larger, the problem can get worse.”

Next: Pay attention to your nails.

6. Nail changes

A person clips their nails.

Pay close attention to any changes in your nail health. | MichalLudwiczak/iStock/Getty Images

Possible cancer: melanoma, liver, or lung

The deadliest type of skin cancer, melanoma, begins in 1% of Caucasian patients and 20% of African-American patients as a brown stripe underneath the nail. Pale or white nails can be a sign of liver cancer. “Clubbing,” the enlargement of the fingers and nails that curve down over the tips, can be a sign of lung cancer.

Next: It could be something worse than bronchitis.

7. Chronic cough

Sick woman cough in bed under blanket.

Could it be more than just a cough? | Samotrebizan/iStock/Getty Images

Possible cancer: lung, neck, or leukemia

A chronic cough or chest pain usually indicates a common infection like bronchitis or sinusitis. If the symptoms persist longer than a month, they could indicate a more serious disease. Leukemia and lung tumor symptoms can mimic a bad cough. If you produce blood in coughed-up mucus, see a doctor immediately. It could be a sign of lung or neck cancer.

Next: Get your moles checked out.

8. Skin changes

A woman looks at her reflection on a mirror.

If you notice any skin changes, let your doctor know. | Razyph/iStock/Getty Images

Possible cancer: skin, adrenal, liver, or pancreatic

Variations in moles and skin pigmentation are most often linked to skin cancer. However, different skin changes can indicate other types of cancer, too. If you notice increased hair growth, you could have adrenal cancer. Pancreatic cancer can manifest in the form of jaundice, or the yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes. Jaundice can also indicate liver cancer.

Next: You should always consult a doctor if you notice this sign.

9. Lumps

Female doctor's hands putting on blue sterilized surgical gloves.

Your doctor can check for any lumps during regular checkups. | Bojan89/iStock/Getty Images

Possible cancer: breast, testicular, or lymph node

Lumps can signal cancer or a swollen gland connected to cancer. Although many are harmless, like a benign cyst, any lumps or glands that are continually swollen for a few weeks should be checked out. One helpful guideline: A tender, movable lump may signify an infection, and a painless lump that’s fixed in place is more likely to be cancer. Regardless, consult your doctor.

Next: The most common early symptom of cancer is often mistaken as normal.

10. Fatigue

Young man massaging his nose and keeping eyes closed.

Your constant fatigue could be a sign of something more serious. | G-stockstudio/iStock/Getty Images

Possible cancer: leukemia or lymphoma

Unexplained exhaustion is the most common sign of cancer. Johns Hopkins Medicine explains cancer-related fatigue is different than normal tiredness; it isn’t a result of activity and can’t be fixed by sleep. Tiredness may be related to the blood loss from other cancers like leukemia and lymphoma. According to the American Cancer Society, fatigue is extremely prevalent in leukemia patients.

Next: Does having a good posture seem impossible these days?

11. Back pain

lower back pain

Many people shrug off back pain as a symptom of sitting too long or overexerting yourself. | globalmoments/iStock/Getty Images

Possible cancer: pancreatic, kidney, prostate, or ovarian

Back pain is a broad symptom of cancer. Tumors may grow in the spinal column, weakening or expanding the bone. More likely, however, back pain could result from cancers that manifest in the lower abdomen areas, involving your pancreas, kidney, or reproductive organs.

Next: It could feel like you ate a bad burger.

12. Cramps or a frequent upset stomach

Woman holds her stomach while sitting on a bench.

Ask your doctor about regular pain in your stomach. | Champja/iStock/Getty Images

Possible cancer: colon, ovarian, or leukemia

If you’re experiencing cramps or a sick stomach, you may be exhibiting early signs of colorectal cancer. See a doctor if you notice persistent stomach cramps or are suddenly, frequently nauseous. Gas, indigestion, cramping, and unexplained stomach pressure can all signal ovarian cancer, too. Pain and cramping in the pelvis can be linked with leukemia, which enlarges the spleen.

Next: Pay attention to your energy levels.

13. Unexplained anemia

A nurse preparing arm for a blood draw.

Regular blood tests and checkups are important for prevention and early diagnosis. | Dontree_m/iStock/Getty Images

Possible cancer: gastrointestinal, urinary tract, vaginal, leukemia, or lymphoma

Bone marrow cancers like leukemia and lymphoma commonly interfere with your body’s ability to make red blood cells and use already-stored iron. This causes anemia and makes you feel tired and weak. Cancers that lead to blood loss like gastrointestinal, urinary tract, cervical, and vaginal cancers can cause bleeding and lead to iron deficiency anemia.

Next: Are you taking Ibuprofen faster than you can buy it?

14. Persistent headaches

Stressed woman having headache.

Persistent headaches could indicate more than just work or family problems. | SIphotography/iStocks/Getty Images

Possible cancer: brain

Brain cancer isn’t often on people’s radar like other cancers. But experiencing frequent headaches that don’t get better with treatment — as well as clumsiness and muscle weakness — indicates just that. An abnormal growth of cells in the brain, this cancer involves treatment in conjunction with neurologists, oncologists, and neurosurgeons.

Next: Common pains can indicate an underlying disease.

15. Pain

Doctor doing MRI of a patient

An MRI could help detect bone cancer. | iStock.com/Photo_Concepts

Possible cancer: bone, liver, testicular, uterine, or breast

According to the ACS, pain may be an early symptom of bone cancers or testicular cancer. Most often, pain due to cancer means it has already spread (metastasized) from where it started.

Unusually heavy, painful periods are a common sign of uterine cancer, and back pain can be an early sign of liver cancer. Many people don’t know that breast cancer can exhibit itself through back pain as well; the tumor may press backward and spread to your spine or ribs.

Next: These cancers may not exhibit any signs at all.

Cancer with no warning signs

A doctor shows a patient test results.

Your doctor will be able to diagnose any of your symptoms. | NanoStockk/iStock/Getty Images

There are a few cancers with no indicators at all. Pancreatic cancer may not show any signs until it has progressed to an advanced stage. Your doctor may recommend regular cancer screenings if you have a family history of the disease.

According to Healthline, despite the warning signs (or lack thereof), it’s impossible to know exactly how an individual might respond to a certain type of cancer, as the symptoms vary.

Next: Here’s how you can ward off cancer.

Reducing your risk

A doctor and patient sitting across a table.

Your doctor can help address any health concerns you might have. | Psphotograph/iStock/Getty Images

Don’t smoke, wear sunscreen, consume alcohol in moderation — you’ve heard it all before. But there are other habits you can adopt to protect yourself from cancer. Exercise regularly, get consistent cancer screenings, and learn your family history to reduce your risk.

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