As with many other health conditions, early detection of cancer can make a significant difference in the prognosis and the effectiveness of treatments.
A seemingly harmless symptom could be a critical warning sign that goes unnoticed, potentially allowing cancer to progress and become more difficult to treat.
Unexpected Weight Loss
Losing weight without trying can seem like a dream come true for some, but unexpected or unexplained weight loss can also be a sign of an underlying condition.
Rapid or unexplained weight loss can be a sign of cancers such as pancreatic, stomach, lung, or esophageal.
Cancer can cause weight loss through various mechanisms, including increased metabolism due to the cancerous cells’ growth and energy demands, changes in the way the body absorbs and utilizes nutrients, or the production of substances by the tumor that suppress appetite.
If you have lost more than 10 pounds without a change in your diet or exercise habits, consult with a healthcare professional to rule out potential cancerous causes.
While it is common and normal to feel tired after a long day, persistent fatigue is something to take note of.
Constant exhaustion, even after a full night’s sleep, could be a sign of an underlying issue.
Some cancers, such as leukemia or colon cancer, can cause fatigue by affecting the body’s ability to produce red blood cells, which are essential for carrying oxygen throughout the body.
If you find yourself feeling unusually tired and unable to shake off the exhaustion, it may be worth discussing with your healthcare provider.
Changes in Skin Appearance
Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, and it’s also one of the most easily detectable. Early detection starts with being proactive about monitoring your skin for any unusual changes.
When examining moles, look for the ABCDEF signs:
- Asymmetry: One half doesn’t match the other.
- Borders: Irregular, notched, or poorly defined edges.
- Color: Varying shades within the same mole or spot.
- Diameter: Larger than a pencil eraser (about 6mm).
- Evolution: Changes in size, shape, color, or elevation.
- Funny Looking: Anything that stands out or looks different from your other moles.
If any of your moles fit any of these criteria, consult with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
Cancers may also present with other skin-related symptoms:
- Actinic Keratoses: Rough, scaly patches on the skin that can develop into skin cancer if left untreated. They are usually found on sun-exposed areas like the face, ears, and hands.
- Non-healing Sores: Sores that don’t heal or continually recur could be a sign of skin cancer, particularly in areas exposed to the sun.
- Spread of Pigment: Watch for pigment from a mole that appears to be spreading to the surrounding skin, as this could be indicative of melanoma, a dangerous type of skin cancer.
- Yellowing or Jaundice: Jaundice can cause a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. This occurs when the liver isn’t able to process bilirubin (a waste product) effectively, possibly due to liver cancer or other liver disease.
- Red or Purple Patches: Erythema, or redness of the skin, can sometimes indicate an internal issue. Similarly, the appearance of unexplained, non-itchy purple patches or spots, known as purpura, can be a sign of leukemia, which affects the body’s blood cells and platelets.
A persistent cough that doesn’t improve or even worsens over time can potentially be a symptom of lung cancer.
While coughs are often associated with colds and respiratory infections, a cough that lasts longer than three weeks, produces blood, or causes pain in the chest should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.
Changes in Bowel Habits
While it’s normal for bowel habits to vary from time to time, significant and persistent changes could be a sign of a more serious issue.
This can include constipation or diarrhea, narrow stools, or the sensation that your bowel isn’t emptying completely.
These symptoms could indicate colon or rectal cancer, and if experienced for more than a few weeks without relief, you should consult with your primary doctor for an evaluation.
Occasional difficulty swallowing is not uncommon, but if this symptom persists or worsens, it may be indicative of esophageal or throat cancer. In some cases, it can also be a sign of stomach or lung cancer.
If you’re experiencing consistent difficulty swallowing or pain when swallowing, consult your doctor for further evaluation.
Unusual Bleeding or Discharge
Blood in the stool or urine, persistent nosebleeds, or unusual vaginal bleeding can be indicative of various cancers, including colon, bladder, kidney, or cervical cancer.
Pay attention to these signs and seek medical advice if you notice any abnormal bleeding or discharge.
By staying informed about these subtle signs of cancer, you can take a proactive approach to your healthcare and ensure that any potential concerns are addressed promptly. Also, keep in mind that some cancers do not present with any obvious symptoms until it has progressed to an advanced stage, which is why it is so important to stay up-to-date with age-appropriate screenings.
Early detection is key to successful cancer treatment, and recognizing these often-overlooked symptoms can make a significant difference in the outcome.