An estimated 1.6 million cases of cancer were diagnosed in the U.S. last year and nearly one-third of those cases were estimated to be fatal. It’s no secret that all kinds of cancer wage war on your body and have plenty of detrimental side effects.
It’s estimated that thousands of deaths could be avoided each year if the cancer is diagnosed early; some cancers’ survival rates increase by over 70% when detected and treated early. Here are some key early warning signs that may indicate cancer (No. 7 seems so innocent).
Fatigue is an early warning sign of cancer. Unexplained exhaustion is the most common sign of the disease, and Johns Hopkins Medicine listed it as a key sign of cancer you shouldn’t ignore. 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: Watch out for infected cuts.
2. Frequent infection
Infection is frequently a sign of leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells that starts in bone marrow. It causes the marrow to produce abnormal white blood cells that hinder your body’s infection-fighting abilities.
Both cancer itself and cancer treatments like chemotherapy weaken your immune system, leaving it more prone to infections. Infections can start anywhere in the body but common sites are the mouth, skin, and lungs.
Next: Pay attention to your appetite.
3. Loss of appetite
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. According to WebMD, consult with your physician if you notice a change in your appetite that lasts two weeks or longer.
According to the ACS, symptoms of stomach cancer like appetite loss often don’t appear until the disease has advanced. Only about 1 in 5 stomach cancers in the U.S. is found at an early stage, before it has spread to other areas of the body.
Next: Notice how badly you bruise.
4. Excessive bruising
Finding a black and blue bump following a scrape or fall is rarely a reason to worry. If you start to notice bruises popping up consistently or in strange places (think hands, fingers, and toes), you may want to get them looked at.
Excessive or unusual bruising can be a sign of leukemia, according to Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Leukemia cells block out red blood cells, hindering their ability to carry oxygen, which leads to blood clotting.
Next: You may have no idea why your weight is fluctuating.
5. Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
According to the ACS, many undiagnosed cancer patients unexpectedly lose 10 or more pounds as a result of the disease. This may be the very first sign of cancer. As cancer cells begin to attack your healthy ones, your body may respond by losing weight. Unexplained weight loss is a sign cancer has spread to the liver, affecting your appetite and the body’s ability to get rid of waste.
Cancer-associated weight loss is most prominent in cancers of the esophagus, lungs, pancreas, and stomach. Ovarian cancer patients report unexplained and ongoing stomach weight gain or bloating.
Next: Watch out for this hidden sign of throat cancer.
6. Indigestion and difficulty swallowing
Both of these issues may indicate esophagus, stomach, or throat cancers. Dysphagia, the term for difficulty swallowing, is the most common sign of esophageal cancer.
The ACS explains how you may be unknowingly adapting to dysphagia and ignoring the early signs of throat cancer. “When swallowing becomes harder, people often change their diet and eating habits without realizing it. They take smaller bites and chew their food more carefully and slowly. As the cancer grows larger, the problem can get worse.”
Next: Pay attention to your nails.
7. Nail changes
Melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, 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.
8. Chronic cough
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 tumors show symptoms that can mimic a bad cough or bronchitis. Some patients also report a chest pain that extends to the shoulder and down their arm.
If you notice an ongoing cough or 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.
9. Skin changes
Noticeable changes are most often linked to skin cancer. However, they can indicate other types of cancer as well. If you notice increased hair growth or jaundice, you may be at risk of adrenal and liver cancers, respectively.
Changes in moles and skin pigmentation are a potential sign of skin cancer and still a cause for concern. Consult your doctor if you notice a mole is asymmetrical, has irregular borders, gets darker, or grows.
Next: You should always consult a doctor if you notice this sign.
You know to check for lumps in your breasts or testicles as signs of breast or testicular cancer. However, persistent lumps that occur in the lymph glands in your throat, armpits, or groin are also a cause for concern.
Lumps can represent cancer or a swollen gland that’s related to cancer. While most are harmless, such as a benign cyst, any lumps or glands that remain swollen for three weeks should be evaluated.
Next: This side effect of your menstrual period could mean something more.
11. Cramps or a frequent upset stomach
If you’re experiencing cramps or a sick stomach, you may be exhibiting early signs of colorectal cancer. Cramps and stomach issues are common and can be a result of multiple mitigating factors, so it’s easy to ignore these symptoms.
See a doctor if you notice persistent stomach cramps or are suddenly, frequently nauseous. Gas, indigestion, cramping, and unexplained stomach pressure can all be a sign of ovarian cancer in women. Pain and cramping in the pelvis can be linked with leukemia, which enlarges the spleen.
Next: Pay attention to your energy levels.
12. Unexplained anemia
Anemia, a condition that results from a lack of red blood cells, leaves you feeling tired, weak, and lightheaded. Cancer can slow down your body’s ability to make red blood cells or interfere with your body’s ability to use already-stored iron.
Bone marrow cancers like leukemia and lymphoma commonly cause anemia. Cancers that lead to blood loss like gastrointestinal, urinary tract, cervical, and vaginal cancers can cause bleeding and lead to iron deficiency anemia.
Next: Common pains can indicate an underlying disease.
According to the ACS, pain may be an early symptom of bone cancers or testicular cancer. A persistent headache that doesn’t get better with treatment could be a symptom of a brain tumor. Most often, pain due to cancer means it has already spread (metastasized) from where it started.
Unusually heavy and 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
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
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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