Usually when cancer patients visit our clinic, they are accompanied by their family members or friends. The most common question they ask us after their patient consultation is over, is that how to detect cancer in its earliest stage? Knowing very well that any treatment for cancer is about managing the cancer and its symptoms. No medicine can say that it has cured cancer completely and it will never come back. So prevention through healthy life style & early detection are the only options available currently.
With my experience of more than 12 years of dealing with cancers, I can surely say, pre-cancer symptoms can be very confusing and puzzling to detect with 100% surety.
Knowing how your body normally looks and feels can help you spot early any changes that could be caused by a cancer. Having any of the following symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer, but it’s sensible to get them checked out by your physician.
According to WHO “Early detection of cancer greatly increases the chances for successful treatment. There are two major components of early detection of cancer: education to promote early diagnosis and screening”
Recognizing possible warning signs of cancer and taking prompt action leads to early diagnosis. Increased awareness of possible warning signs of cancer, among physicians, nurses and other health care providers as well as among the general public, can have a great impact on the disease. Some early signs of cancer include lumps, sores that fail to heal, abnormal bleeding, persistent indigestion, and chronic hoarseness. Early diagnosis is particularly relevant for cancers of the breast, cervix, mouth, larynx, colon and rectum, and skin.
As a cancer grows, it can begin to push on nearby organs, blood vessels, and nerves. This pressure causes some of the signs and symptoms of cancer. If the cancer is in a critical area, such as certain parts of the brain, even the smallest tumor can cause symptoms.
A cancer may also cause symptoms like fever, extreme tiredness (fatigue), or weight loss. This may be because cancer cells use up much of the body’s energy supply, or they may release substances that change the way the body makes energy from food. Or the cancer may cause the immune system to react in ways that produce these signs and symptoms.
So what are some general signs and symptoms of cancer?
You should know some of the general signs and symptoms of cancer. But remember, having any of these does not mean that you have cancer—many other things cause these signs and symptoms, too. If you have any of these symptoms and they last for a long time or get worse, please see a doctor to find out what’s going on.
You should see your physician if you notice a lump or swelling anywhere on your body.
These cancers occur mostly in the breast, testicle, lymph nodes (glands), and the soft tissues of the body. A lump or thickening may be an early or late sign of cancer and should be reported to a doctor, especially if you’ve just found it or notice it has grown in size. Keep in mind that some breast cancers show up as red or thickened skin rather than the expected lump.
It can be useful to tell your physician how long it’s been there and if it’s getting bigger or causes discomfort. It can be difficult to tell what a lump is just by feeling it. But if your physician suspects that you might have a cancer, they will refer you to an appropriate specialist for further tests.
Coughing and breathlessness
If you have a cough or feel breathless for more than three weeks, you should see your physician. Tell them if you have any blood in your sputum (phlegm) when you cough. One of the first signs lung cancer patients remember noticing when they look back is the inability to catch their breath. “I couldn’t even walk to my car without wheezing; I thought I had asthma, but how come I didn’t have it before?” is how one man described it. Shortness of breath, chest pain, or spitting blood are also signs of testicular cancer that’s spread to the lungs.
Unexplained bleeding should always be checked out by your physician.
Any unexplained bleeding is a sign that something might be wrong and should always be checked out by your physician.
- Bleeding between periods or after sex may be caused by cancer of the womb orcervix. Women who have any vaginal bleeding after they have had their menopause should always see their physician.
- Blood in your urine may be caused by bladder or kidney cancer.
- Coughing up blood in your sputum (phlegm) can sometimes be a sign of lung cancer.
- Vomiting blood can be a sign of stomach cancer, although it can also be due to a stomach ulcer.
- Bruising and nosebleeds are rarely signs of cancer, but can in some cases be caused by leukaemia. However, people with leukaemia usually have other symptoms too.
Unexplained weight loss
If you’ve lost a lot of weight over a short period of time (a couple of months or less) that can’t be explained by changes in your diet, increased exercise or stress, it’s important to tell your physician. Most people with cancer will lose weight at some point. When you lose weight for no known reason, it’s called anunexplained weight loss. An unexplained weight loss of 20 kgs or more may be the first sign of cancer. This happens most often with cancers of the pancreas, stomach, esophagus (swallowing tube), or lung.
Unexplained weight loss can be an early sign of colon and other digestive cancers; it can also be a sign of cancer that’s spread to the liver, affecting your appetite and the ability of your body to rid itself of waste.
Suspicious moles or skin changes
Malignant melanoma is a type of skin cancer that often starts with a change in the appearance of normal skin. This can look like an abnormal new mole. Fewer than one third of melanomas develop in existing moles. Any of the following changes should always be checked out.
- Asymmetry – Melanomas are likely to be irregular or asymmetrical. Ordinary moles are usually symmetrical (both halves look the same).
- Border – Melanomas are more likely to have an irregular border with jagged edges. Ordinary moles usually have a well-defined, regular border.
- Colour – Moles tend to be one shade of brown. Melanomas often have more than one colour.
- Diameter (width) – Melanomas are usually more than 7mm in diameter. Moles are normally no bigger than the blunt end of a pencil (about 6mm across).
- Evolving (changing) – Look for changes in the size, shape or colour of a mole.
It’s important to see your physician if you have any unusual marks on the skin that last for more than a few weeks, or if you have a mole that shows any of the above signs.
A hoarse voice may be a sign of cancer of the larynx. Hoarseness can occasionally be a symptom of other cancers, such as thyroid cancer, cancer of the gullet (oesophagus) orlung cancer. If hoarseness continues for longer than two weeks, you should tell your physician. A cough that does not go away may be a sign of lung cancer. Hoarseness can be a sign of cancer of the voice box(larynx) or thyroid gland.
People often think that pain is a symptom of cancer, but many people with cancer have no pain in the early stages. Some people with cancer will never have pain.
Changes in Fingernails
Unexplained changes to the fingernails can be a sign of several types of cancer. A brown or black streak or dot under the nail can indicate skin cancer, while newly discovered “clubbing” — enlargement of the ends of the fingers, with nails that curve down over the tips — can be a sign of lung cancer. Pale or white nails can be an indication that your liver is not functioning properly, sometimes a sign of liver cancer.
Chronic “Acid Stomach” or Feeling Full After a Small Meal
The most common early sign of stomach cancer is pain in the upper or middle abdomen that feels like gas or heartburn. It may be aggravated by eating, so that you feel full when you haven’t actually eaten much. What’s particularly confusing is that the pain can be relieved by antacids, falsely confirming your conclusion that it was caused by acid in the stomach, when it’s more than that. If you have frequent bouts of acid stomach, an unexplained abdominal ache, or a full feeling after meals even when you’re eating less than normal, call your doctor.
If you just ate half a pizza, heartburn is expected. But if you have frequent episodes of heartburn or a constant low-level feeling of pain in the chest after eating, call your doctor and ask about screening for esophageal cancer. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) — a condition in which stomach acid rises into the esophagus, causing heartburn and an acidic taste in the throat — can trigger a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which can be a precursor of esophageal cancer.
Change in bowel habit
Blood in your stools (bowel motions) can be a symptom of bowel cancer. The blood is usually dark but can be bright red in colour.
You may notice a change in your normal bowel pattern, such as diarrhoea orconstipation, for no obvious reason. Some people may have alternating episodes of diarrhoea and constipation. You may have a feeling of not having emptied your bowel properly after a bowel motion. Some people have pain in the tummy (abdomen) or back passage.
People diagnosed with colon cancer say they noticed more frequent stools, as well as a feeling that their bowels weren’t emptying completely. One of the early signs of pancreatic cancer is fatty stools, which can be recognized as frequent, large stools that are paler than normal and smelly.
If any changes in bowel habit last for more than six weeks, you should check them out with your physician.
Swelling of facial features
Some patients with lung cancer report that they noticed puffiness, swelling, or redness in the face. The explanation for this is that small-cell lung tumors commonly block blood vessels in the chest, preventing blood from flowing freely from the head and face.
If you have any of the above symptoms, it’s important to have them checked by your family physician, don’t get worked up or stressed out, but its better to be safe & may be, its not a cancer, at all .