Detecting cancer early can save the patient’s life. Although cancer screening offers the best chance of early detection for many types of cancer, often cancer is found because the patient notices cancer symptoms.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to recognize the symptoms of early-stage cancer, and many of these symptoms can also be caused by other, less-threatening illnesses.
Below are some symptoms of a few common cancers. If you experience any of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks, check with your doctor. Most likely, you don’t have cancer, but it’s important to have your physician address your concern.
Breast cancer may cause one or more of the following symptoms:
- a new lump in the breast or armpit;
- swelling of all or part of the breast, even if no lump is felt;
- enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit or neck;
- scaly or red skin on the breast;
- changes in breast size, shape, or skin texture;
- dimpling or puckering of the breast skin;
- nipple discharge (other than breast milk); or
- nipple turned inward or pulled to one side.
It is important to be familiar with your own breasts so you know what “normal” for you feels and looks like.
Often men with prostate cancer do not have any symptoms. If there are symptoms, they vary from man to man, but these are some of the typical signs of prostate cancer:
- frequent urination, especially at night;
- problems passing urine, including difficulty when starting to urinate or trying to hold back;
- not being able to urinate;
- blood in the urine or semen;
- trouble getting an erection; or
- frequent pain or stiffness in hips, lower back, or upper thighs.
Other diseases also can cause these symptoms. Trouble passing urine, for instance, is much more often caused by an enlarged prostate than by cancer. Regardless of the symptoms’ underlying cause, your physician may be able to relieve them.
Particularly if you smoke, chew, or dip tobacco—or regularly drink alcohol—you should often check your mouth for possible signs of oral cancer.
These are common symptoms of oral cancer:
- white or velvety red patches in the mouth;
- lumps or hardening of tissue in the mouth;
- a sore in the mouth or throat that does not heal;
- difficulty chewing or swallowing or moving the tongue or jaw; or
- persistent bad breath.
These symptoms could mean cancer or a less serious medical problem, so it is important to consult your doctor or dentist if you find abnormal areas in your mouth.
Skin cancers—including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma—often start as small changes to your skin. While these changes usually are not cancer, they may become cancer over time, which is why it is crucial to have them examined by a doctor.
These are some things to look for:
- a new spot on your skin or a spot that has changed in size, shape, or color;
- a sore that does not heal;
- a spot or sore that becomes itchy, painful, or tender;
- a small, shiny, pale, smooth, or waxy lump;
- a firm, red lump that has a crust or bleeds; or
- a flat red spot that is dry or scaly.
Knowing the warning signs of lung cancer is important for both nonsmokers and smokers. While the majority of people who develop lung cancer were once smokers, about 15% never smoked.
These are some lung cancer symptoms you should look for:
- a cough that doesn’t go away and keeps getting worse;
- continual chest pain or pain in your arm or shoulder;
- coughing up blood, even a small amount;
- shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness;
- repeated episodes of bronchitis or pneumonia;
- swelling in your neck and face;
- unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite;
- fatigue; or
- changes in fingernails and nail beds.
Talk to your doctor
Some of the symptoms listed above—such as weight or appetite loss, fatigue, or fingernail changes—could be caused by more than one type of cancer.
If you experience any of the symptoms described above for more than 2 weeks, don’t panic; but do see your doctor. Remember that having symptoms does not mean that you have cancer. But in the event you do, detecting cancer early can greatly increase your chances of successful treatment and long survival.
– K. Stuyck
For more information, talk to your physician or call askMDAnderson at 877-632-6789.
OncoLog, October 2014, Volume 59, Issue 10