Did you know that more people die from cancer each year than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined?
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States alone, one out of every four deaths is caused by cancer. (1)
That’s why it’s so important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of cancer.
In this article, we will discuss seven cancer symptoms that are often overlooked.
But before we go into the symptoms, it’s important to understand what cancer is.
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What is cancer?
Cancer occurs when cells in your body begin to grow out of control.
Normally, cells divide and grow as needed to replace older or damaged cells.
However, with cancer, these new cells continue to grow and divide, even when they are no longer needed.
This is why cancer can sometimes form masses of tissue called tumors.
While there are many different types of cancer that occur in various parts of the body, there are some common symptoms that most cancer patients experience.
Here are seven cancer symptoms that are often overlooked:
1. Unexplained weight loss
According to the American Cancer Society, while it can sometimes be difficult to lose weight, unexplained weight loss is one of the most common signs of cancer.
This symptom is especially prevalent in cancers of the stomach, pancreas, lung, and esophagus. (5, 6, 7)
The Mayo Clinic recommends that you see your doctor if you lose more than 5 percent of your body weight over a period of 6 to 12 months without trying to lose weight. (8)
What causes weight loss in cancer patients?
One of the main reasons for unexplained weight loss in cancer patients is that tumors can interfere with normal digestion, leading to a lack of appetite and energy.
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), other causes of weight loss in cancer patients can include nausea and vomiting, difficulty swallowing, pain, and depression (9)
2. Changes in bowel habits
Many people experience changes in their bowel habits from time to time, whether this means that they have diarrhea more often or feel constipated more often than usual.
However, if you notice any significant and unexplained change in your bowel movements, this could be a sign of colorectal cancer.
According to the CDC, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women. (10)
So how do you identify changes in bowel habits that could be a sign of colorectal cancer?
The American Cancer Society recommends that you see your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Diarrhea or constipation that lasts for longer than a few days, or that you experience more often than usual (11)
- Diarrhea with blood or mucus in the stool
- Thin or narrow stools
- Stools that are hard to pass
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement even after you’ve just had one.
- Rectal bleeding with or without pain
- Cramping or abdominal pain
3. Unexplained fatigue
Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness or exhaustion that is not relieved by rest.
While it’s normal to feel fatigued from time to time, especially if you’ve been working hard or haven’t been sleeping well.
However, if you experience unexplained fatigue that persists for several weeks and is not relieved by rest or sleep, this may be a sign of cancer.
This symptom is especially common in leukemia, lymphoma, and breast cancer.
In short, if you’re feeling exhausted all the time and it’s not going away, it’s important to see your doctor to rule out cancer as a potential cause.
4. Skin changes
Cancer can also cause changes in the way your skin looks or feels.
For example, skin cancer may cause a change in the size, color, or shape of a mole.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, you should see your doctor if you have a mole that is:
- Asymmetrical, meaning that the two halves of your mole look very different.
- Irregularly shaped, meaning that the edges are ragged or notched.
- Having more than one color, such as brown, black, red, and white. (13)
In addition to that, if you notice a sore on your skin that doesn’t seem to go away, it could be a sign of skin cancer.
This is especially true if the sore bleeds frequently or has an unusual appearance.
Other types of cancer, such as oral cancer, can also cause mouth or tongue sores that don’t heal.
5. Lumps or masses
Lumps or masses can be a sign of cancer in any part of the body.
However, according to the Cleveland Clinic, lumps or masses are most commonly found in the breast, testicle, or neck. (14)
Of course, not all lumps or masses are cancerous — they can also be caused by infections or cysts.
That’s why it’s important to see your doctor if you notice any new or unusual lumps on your skin.
They will be able to help you determine if the mass is cancerous, and may recommend further testing or treatment.
6. Persistent cough or hoarseness
A cough that lasts for more than a few weeks, or a cough that is accompanied by hoarseness, could be a sign of lung cancer.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible.
7. Night sweats
Night sweats, or excess sweating while you sleep, can also be a sign of cancer.
This may happen due to your body’s attempt to fight off cancer.
However, while night sweats may be caused by menopause, fevers, or anxiety, if you’re waking up drenched in sweat on a regular basis, it’s worth mentioning it to your doctor.
Other potential signs of cancer include:
- Unexplained fever
- Persistent pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent indigestion or heartburn
- Unusual bleeding or discharge
- Unexplained changes in urination
The symptoms of cancer can vary depending on the type of cancer and wherein the body it’s located.
However, if you experience the following symptoms for an extended period of time, it’s important to talk to your doctor:
- Changes in bowel habits
- Unexplained fatigue
- Skin changes
- Lumps or masses
- Persistent cough or hoarseness
- Night sweats
It’s also important to note that not all of these symptoms are indicative of cancer – they could also be caused by other conditions.
However, if you have any of these symptoms and they persist for several weeks or months, it’s a good idea to see your doctor in order to rule out cancer as a potential cause.