Cancer: Know Its Early Warning Signs

Recognizing the early warning signs of cancer can help to ensure an early diagnosis. This makes it potentially easier to treat cancer before it has metastasized (spread to other areas of the body). Cancer that is detected early typically has not yet had the opportunity to deplete the body of its disease-fighting resources, and therefore cancer, regardless of what category it belongs, is far more susceptible to treatment.

There are a number of general early warning signs, or initial symptoms, of cancer. If you experience any one of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical attention so that you can be properly screened for cancer. The most common general early symptoms of cancer are:

  • Lumps of Thickening in Breast or Testicle Tissues
    Since breast and testicular cancer have increasingly shown signs of developing earlier, all men and women above the age of 25 should regularly (at least once a month) examine themselves for telltale signs of cancer of the breasts and testicles. By gently yet firmly pressing into the breasts, women are often able to detect lumps or thickening breast tissue that can be a sign of breast cancer. In a similar fashion, men can massage their testicles, being on the lookout for any noticeable changes in the way they feel.
  • Changes in Warts or Moles
    Warts or moles that begin to change appearance can be a sign of various types of skin cancer, such as melanoma or squamous carcinoma. One indication that skin cancer might be developing is bleeding that occurs in warts and moles. Changes in wart and mole size is another common indicator. In addition, the appearance of chronic pimples or patches of dry, scaly skin are other warning signs, as is skin that becomes inflamed or ulcerated. Sores that are slow to heal are another indicator, as are chronic sores in the mouth.
  • Persistent Sore Throat.
    A chronic sore throat can be a potential indicator that cancer is developing in an area of the throat (esophagus, larynx, or pharynx). Other early warning signs of throat cancer include persistent hoarseness, lumps in the throat, and difficulty swallowing.
  • Changes in Bowel and Bladder Habits.
    Any noticeable and persistent change in your bowel movements or in the way you urinate can be an indication of cancer in the genitourinary tract (bladder, prostate, and testicular cancer) or in the gastrointestinal tract (colon or stomach cancer). Such changes include unexplained constipation or diarrhea, blood in the urine or stool, pain during urination and elimination, difficulty urinating or passing stool, abdominal pain, and stools that are dark and resemble tar.
  • Coughing Blood/Persistent Coughing.
    Persistent coughing and coughing up of blood can be signs of lung cancer, as well as other types of cancer, especially in people who smoke.
  • Chronic Digestion Problems.
    The following digestive symptoms can all be indications of cancer: abdominal pain, bloating of the stomach or abdomen, chronic heartburn or indigestion, nausea, and loss of appetite. Chronic flatulence is another potential early warning sign, as is a persistent "growling" stomach.
  • Unexplained Weight Loss.
    Any sudden and unexplained loss of weight should immediately be brought to the attention of your doctor.
  • Persistent Fatigue and Feelings of Exhaustion.
    Ongoing loss of energy or chronic fatigue can be signs that cancer is present and beginning to spread.
  • Abnormal Vaginal Discharges and/or Bleeding.
    These signs can be indications of cervical, ovarian, or vaginal cancer.
Other Telltale Warning Signs of Specific Types of Cancers

In addition to the general early warning symptoms mentioned above, specific types of cancers usually result in specific symptoms. What follows is a list of some of the most common cancer and the symptoms that most commonly accompany them:

  • Bladder Cancer Symptoms: blood in the urine, rust-colored urine, pain and/or burning sensations during urination, frequent need to urinate, difficulty urinating, pus-filled urine.
  • Bone Cancer (Sarcoma) Symptoms: unexplained weakness in areas of the musculo-skeletal system, unexplained pains in and around areas of the bones, increased susceptibility to fractures.
  • Breast Cancer Symptoms: lumps in the breast and/or thickening breast tissue, nipple discharge, retraction of the nipple, dimpling of breast tissue, reddened breast skin tissue, swollen breasts, sensation of heat in the breasts, swelling in the lymph nodes beneath the armpits.
  • Colon and Rectal Cancer Symptoms: blood in the stools, bleeding from the rectum, dark and tarry stools, abdominal pains and cramping, unexplained constipation or diarrhea, alternating constipation and diarrhea, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, unexplained fatigue, poor skin pallor.
  • Kidney Cancer Symptoms: Blood in the urine, dull aches or pains in the lower back or on the sides of the abdomen, lumps or swelling in the kidney area of the abdomen or lower back, unexplained elevations in blood pressure levels, unexplained abnormalities in red blood cell count.
  • Leukemia Symptoms: Unexplained weakness or fatigue, pale skin, unexplained fever, flu-like symptoms, prolonged bleeding, unexplained bruising, enlarged lymph nodes, swollen spleen and/or liver, frequent infections, unexplained bone or joint pain, unexplained weight loss, night sweats.
  • Lung Cancer Symptoms: persistent coughing or wheezing, persistent chest pain, persistent lung congestion, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, blood produced upon coughing.
  • Melanoma (Skin Cancer) Symptoms: changes in skin tone and texture; changes in the size, shape, and/or color of moles; unexplained bleeding from the skin.
  • Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Symptoms: Swelling (without pain) of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, and/or groin; persistent fever; persistent fatigue; unexplained weight loss; unexplained skin rashes and/or itching; small lumps in the skin; bone pain; swelling in the liver, spleen, and/or areas of the abdomen.
  • Oral (Lip, Mouth, or Throat) Cancer Symptoms: Lumps or sore spots in the mouth, pain while eating or drinking, persistent ulcers on the lip, tongue or inside the mouth, difficulty swallowing, oral pain, loosening teeth, bleeding in the mouth, blood produced by coughing, persistent bad breath.
  • Ovarian Cancer Symptoms: Abdominal swelling, unexplained vaginal bleeding or discharge, persistent and unexplained digestive problems.
  • Pancreatic Cancer (Cancer of the Pancreas) Symptoms: Persistent pain in the upper abdomen, unexplained weight loss, persistent pain in the mid-back and center of the back, loss of appetite, sudden inability to properly digest/tolerate fatty foods, yellow skin tone (jaundice), abdominal swelling, swelling of the liver and spleen.
  • Prostate Cancer Symptoms: Difficulty urinating, pain or burning sensations upon urination, frequent need to urinate, incomplete urination, blood in the urine, pain in the area of the bladder, dull, persistent aching in the area of the pelvis and lower back.
  • Uterine Cancer (Cancer of the Uterus) Symptoms: (Approximately 70 to 75 percent of all cases of uterine cancer occur after menopause.) Vaginal bleeding or discharge after menopause, painful urination, collection of fluids in the uterus, pain during intercourse, persistent pains in the area of the pelvis.


NOTE: Relying of self-care screening methods alone is not enough to detect cancer. People 40 years and older, as well as anyone in which cancer is common in their family, should consider receiving professional cancer screening tests on an annual basis.

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