Frequently Ignored Cancer Symptoms

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Many people only discover they have cancer when something turns up on an x-ray, ultrasound, or other routine test. Unfortunately, the disease may then be in its later (and more difficult-to-treat) stages. When patients ignore symptoms and live with their lumps, bumps, rattles, and pains instead of looking for what's causing them, they may be doing themselves serious harm. 

According to the National Cancer Institute, the most frequently diagnosed cancers (in alphabetical order) in the United States are:

  • Bladder Cancer
  • Breast Cancer
  • Colon and Rectal Cancer
  • Endometrial Cancer
  • Kidney Cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Lung Cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Thyroid Cancer

What are common cancer symptoms?

Many cancers have vague and similar symptoms. For example, Bladder, Colorectal, Endometrial (and Ovarian) all include nausea, abdominal pain, and cramping, back pain, bladder pressure, and diarrhea/constipation as symptoms. Thyroid and Lung Cancer symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, fatigue and weakness.  Breast, Melanoma and Kidney Cancer can all cause skin changes. Of course, all these symptoms might also signal household viruses and bacterial infections or other non-cancer related diseases.

How do you know when it's something serious? 

Listen to your body and make note when something new, different or unexplainable happens. Listen to the people you live with when they tell you something seems "off."  As a general rule of thumb, our immune systems will deal with common infections in short order. Within a week or two of coming down with symptoms, you should be on the mend.  When symptoms last longer than that, come out of nowhere, are unattached to a known source, or seem to be getting worse, see your doctor.

What are some of the most common cancer symptoms people ignore, but shouldn't?

1. Upper Respiratory symptoms:

  • Coughing that goes on too long or is unrelated to a cold or flu
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness

2. Lumps and bumps:

  • Swollen glands in the neck, armpits, or groin
  • Lumps of any size in the breast, chest, or armpit

3.    Skin changes:

  • Discolorations or moles that look different
  • Blotchy red marks,
  • Inflammation
  • Hardened skin
  • Crusty skin
  • Wounds that won't heal
  • Hot spots
  • Bruising and excess bleeding

4.    Abdominal symptoms:

  • Bloating and/or abdominal swelling
  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Diarrhea, constipation
  • Cramps
  • Dull abdominal pain
  • Frequent urination
  • Burning or blood in urine
  • Lack of appetite or feeling full quickly
  • Rectal bleeding or bloody stools
  • Heavy uterine bleeding

Don't take your health for granted. Schedule regular preventative screening exams like physicals, mammograms and colonoscopies, but pay attention to what your body tells you between checkups. Then, tell your doctor. 

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