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It's a word that brings goosebumps to your skin and makes your heart skip a beat — cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 595,690 people will die from the disease in the next year. And while we have come so far with treatment options, the best cure against this scary disease is prevention. But even knowing that, there are signs that most people ignore or brush off as insignificant. But they're not — they could save your life — and they're all listed for you below. If you feel that something is out of whack, be sure to contact your doctor.
Most people think of weight loss as a good thing, but weight loss for no known reason is a common sign in the early stages of some types of cancer. Sixty percent of people with lung cancer and 80 percent of people with stomach, pancreatic, or esophageal cancer have lost a significant amount of weight by the time they are diagnosed. So if you're not intentionally dieting and you lose more than five percent of your normal weight in a month, be sure to let your doctor know.
It's not a stretch to say that everyone gets tired, but there's tired, and then there's TIRED in a way that makes it almost impossible to go through your daily tasks and doesn't get better with sleep. It's a sign that something in your body isn't properly functioning, and a cancer may cause fatigue as the cancer cells use up the body’s energy supply and change the way the body makes energy from food. It's a common early symptom in some cancers like leukemia, stomach, or colon cancers.
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We've all had a fever, but what could it really mean? It's the body’s response to infection or illness, and cancer accounts for about 20 to 30 percent of fevers where the origin is unknown — meaning you don't have the flu or another virus. Fever may be a sign of early cancer in the case of blood cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma. Fever may also reveal colon and kidney cancer at an early stage. It doesn't matter how high or low the fever is, but rather the duration. Unexplained fevers should always be investigated.
Nobody likes pain, but it's a sign that something's not right in your body and is one of the most common early symptoms of bone cancer. At first, the pain may not be constant and may only worsen with movement. That said, approximately 20 percent of men have a sharp pain in the testicle or scrotum as a first symptom of testicular cancer. When it comes to the lungs, cancers may press on nerves resulting in pain in the shoulder, chest, back, or arm even before they cause any difficulty breathing or coughing. And yes, not to be dramatic, but that headache could be a sign of a brain tumor. Don't freak out, but if it's persistent get thee to a doctor.
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Nobody likes to talk about their bathroom habits, but doing so could save your life. Sometimes cancer can block a bowel, meaning you can't pass gas and are constipated. Constant diarrhea or watery stool should also be looked at for obvious reasons. Changes in shape of your stool such as if your stool becomes thin, narrow, or ribbon-like could be an indication of changes inside your colon caused by cancer. So while you might not want potty talk, anything out of the ordinary going on with the toilet situation for more than a couple of weeks should be brought to your doctor.
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Having a hard time catching your breath? That's not normal. Some types of cancer can grow very near the tissue that surrounds your heart, which can interfere with how much blood the heart can pump out and can cause shortness of breath. Cancer in or near the lungs may cause a blockage to the tubes that carry air. And breast cancer tumors can also cause breathlessness. Increased pressure on the diaphragm — from a build up of fluid in the abdomen as is common with ovarian or liver cancer — can make it harder for the lungs to expand when you breathe in.
According to the Skin Care Foundation, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined. In other words, the skin is a window into what's going on inside your body, and any changes to that skin should be taken seriously. When it comes to skin cancer, existing moles that develop irregular borders and change in shape or size should be reported to your doctor. Any new growths or dark spots, dry, scaly or pinkish patches, or any sores that change, itch or bleed and won’t heal may also indicate skin cancer, and early treatment is essential.
This just in: blood is not a good sign, whether it's coming out of an end up top or on the bottom, if you know what I mean. Coughing up blood may be a sign of lung cancer or laryngeal cancer, while blood in the urine is usually the first and most common sign of cancer of the bladder or kidneys. Blood in the stool could be a sign of colon or rectal cancer, and a bloody discharge from the nipple can indicate breast cancer. All are serious, but also a sign that you can try to catch the cancer early.
The picture isn't pretty, but neither is a diagnosis of any form of oral cancer, which could be easily treated if caught early enough. We've all had canker sores, so no need to stress if it's there and gone in a couple of days. But the most common symptoms of oral cancers include a sore or lump on the lip or in the mouth that does not heal or bleeds easily, and white and/or red patches or coating on the gums, tongue, or cheeks that doesn’t go away. The inside of the mouth may also appear red, shiny, or swollen. If this sticks around for more than a couple of weeks, it's time to make that call.
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Long story short, lumps are not good. They're not always cancer, but they're not a good sign and need to be checked out immediately because many cancers can be felt through the skin. These cancer signs occur mostly in the breast, testicles, and lymph nodes (glands), such as in the neck, armpits, or groin and may also show up as red or thickened skin rather than a lump. What should you look for specifically? A lump caused by cancer is usually hard, irregularly shaped, and firmly attached deep in the soft tissue or under the skin. It's usually not painful, but should always be examined.
The technical term for this is dysphagia, and it occurs when you have trouble getting food or liquid to pass down the mouth or throat. Not pleasant, but also not a good sign. Mouth or throat cancers can cause the passages to become restricted or narrowed making swallowing difficult. It's also a common symptom of a variety of head and neck cancers such as esophageal, oropharyngeal cancer, thyroid, and laryngeal cancers. While it sounds like a broken record — tell your doctor.
Most of the time a cough that won't go away is simply more of an annoyance than anything — to you and the people around you. But there are times it's a sign that something deeper is going on. A cough that lasts for at least eight consecutive weeks is something you have to look into because at least half of people diagnosed with lung cancer have a cough that just wouldn’t go away at the time of diagnosis. Excessive coughing can also be a sign of laryngeal and thyroid cancer.
Is your stomach distended more often than not and not just after a big meal? Does it appear to be swollen and cause your pants to not fit anymore? Increased abdominal size or persistent bloating are common signs of ovarian, uterine, or stomach cancer. Colon cancer can also block the inside of the colon, causing progressive bloating. In addition, an enlarged abdomen is common in liver cancer and can be caused by the growing tumor or the build up of fluids. If you have bloating on most days, for three weeks or more, get to your doctor.
Ugh. There are no two ways around it — heartburn is uncomfortable, and most of the time that acid reflux can go away with some Tums and a change to the diet. But heartburn can also be a symptom of something called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a potentially serious condition that — if left untreated — can ultimately lead to esophageal cancer. So if your antacids aren't doing the trick and it's been more than a couple of weeks, you know the drill — call your doctor. Because while it's never fun to even entertain the thought of cancer, early detection and communicating with your doctor could save your life.