There are more than 100 types of cancers and their symptoms as there are more than 100 sites in the body where cancer cells can originate. Depending on the site of cancer in the body, its symptoms will present accordingly.
Body symptoms of cancer can be general such as extreme fatigue or unexplained weight loss, and they can be specific depending on the site of cancer in the body. Some symptoms are common while some are unusual.
Secondly, due to metastasis, symptoms also vary, as the site of metastasis is different from the site of cancer origin. We shall, therefore, discuss the symptoms of cancer broadly and then, in brief, shall touch on the specific early warning symptoms of some common cancers.
The risk of death from cancer reduces significantly if cancer is detected early and treatment initiated promptly. Symptoms can be of great help if you take them to your doctor ASAP. One hallmark sign of cancer is that a symptom persists and does not improve even after a few weeks.
General symptoms of cancer in men and women
Broadly, there are some early symptoms of cancer, which present themselves in most cases. If you are exposed to factors that cause cancer and experience these symptoms, you should be particularly more suspicious and consult your oncologist for a cancer check-up.
These are general symptoms and could present even with other health disorders besides cancer. Your doctor will be the best person to identify the cause of these symptoms and rule out cancer.
1) Extreme fatigue
There is an explained feeling of being very tired. This fatigue persists even after taking a rest. This could be an early warning sign of cancer that does not go away.
2) Persistent fever
Fever comes off and on. It can be intermittent or it may persist. No other apparent cause for this fever is detected. This could also be an early symptom of cancer. Some cancers such as lymphoma, leukemia, and kidney and liver cancers can present in this fashion.
3) Unexplained weight loss
Other factors of lifestyle remaining constant, there is loss of weight without any apparent reason. A loss of 5 kgs in such a fashion should be a cause for worry and action steps should be initiated. Such a weight loss is often seen in cancers of the G.I. tract such as cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, lung, and pancreas.
The site of pain varies according to the site of cancer. For example:
- Headache presents in brain cancer.
- Bone pain is felt at the site of bone cancer.
- Back pain may be due to colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer.
- Pain in the pelvic area will occur in ovarian cancer and leukemia.
- Pain may be among the early signs of cancer and can also indicate the onset of metastasis.
5) Abnormal growth of body hair
In certain cases, there may be excessive growth of body hair. The baldness that you see in cancer patients is due to the chemotherapy treatment and not due to cancer.
Such excessive growth of body hair may occur on the face, armpits, chest, and groin. It is called Hirsutism. It becomes more easily noticed in women. It is seen in:
- Adrenocortical carcinoma is the cancer of the adrenal glands.
- Ovarian cancer
- Renal cell carcinoma is the cancer of the ovaries
- Tumors of the pituitary gland
6) Skin changes
In cancer, certain changes appear in the appearance of the skin. They could be as follows:
- The skin could turn darker.
- There could be jaundice (yellowish discoloration of the skin).
- There could be itching of the skin.
- At times, there could be reddish discoloration of the skin (erythema).
7) Loss of appetite
A simple cold or flu can make you lose your appetite. It can also be due to other reasons such as depression, lack of physical activity, nausea and vomiting, some drugs, etc. But, appetite loss for a prolonged period requires looking into and malignancy somewhere in the body should be ruled out.
8) Night sweats
Night sweats can be a symptom of menopause in middle-aged women but are included as one of the unusual cancer symptoms.
Night sweats occur due to cancer treatments such as chemotherapy. If your night sweats occur as a symptom, you may experience other symptoms such as fever and unexplained weight loss.
Symptoms and warning signs of various specific cancers
Above, we discussed the general body symptoms that present when you have cancer.
Here, we specifically discuss the early cancer symptoms of certain common cancers. This is because each cancer typically has early signs, which can give you a warning and goad you to go visit your cancer specialist to rule out cancer.
Knowing these first signs is important because diagnosing and treating cancer in the early stages, before metastasis sets in, is crucial to improve your chances of survival.
Do I Have Cancer? This is a question that does appear in the minds of us all – especially when we come across a person who has cancer or has died of it.
A doctor does face such questions from his patients who often ask – How do I know I have cancer?
Knowing these beginning signs of cancer will help. The symptoms explained below can also occur due to other health disorders. It will be your oncologist (cancer specialist) who will confirm whether the presenting symptoms are due to cancer or some other disease.
Early symptoms and signs of cancer in men and women
1) Persistent cough may indicate lung cancer or cancer of the larynx.
2) Hoarseness of voice may indicate cancer of the larynx.
3) Difficulty in swallowing may indicate cancer of the esophagus. This occurs due to cancer growth, which narrows the lumen of the esophagus.
4) Frequent indigestion and bloating may indicate stomach cancer.
5) Change in bowel routine, like persistent constipation or diarrhea, may be due to cancer of the colon or rectum.
6) Change in bladder routines, such as frequent urination or small amounts of urine or slow flow of urine can be an indication of renal cancer or bladder cancer or cancer of the prostate.
7) Feeling of fullness with loss of appetite and not wanting to eat could be due to stomach cancer or ovarian cancer.
8) Difficulty in speaking or chewing could be due to cancer of the tongue or mouth or larynx.
9) Any change in size, shape, or color of a mole or wart on the skin should be checked for malignancy.
10) Persistent anemia without apparent cause can be due to cancers that cause bleeding such as:
- Colorectal cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Endometrial cancer
- Bone marrow cancer
11) A lump or swelling that is felt by your hand can be an indication
- Testicular cancer. Please note that in some men, one testicle may be bigger than the other. This is a normal occurrence and should not be construed for growth.
- Breast cancer may show a lump in the breast.
- A growth felt in the neck, axilla, groin, or such may be due to an enlarged lymph node. This could even be due to infection in which case the enlarged gland or lymph node subsides after treatment with antibiotics. Growth due to malignancy persists even when there is no infection and is firmer to touch. Such an enlarged lymph node is an early warning sign of metastasis.
12) Non-healing ulcer can be a sure shot sign of malignancy if diabetes has been ruled out. Here, your doctor will first rule out diabetes. For example, a non-healing ulcer in the mouth can be due to oral cancer.
13) An unexplained and sudden increase in the size of the midriff could be due to malignant ovarian growth. Advanced bowel cancer can cause swelling of the abdomen. This is due to a build-up of fluid in the abdomen (ascites).
14) Bleeding could be a telltale warning sign of cancer. At first, a cancer lesion may bleed slightly because its blood vessels become fragile. Later, as the cancer grows and invades neighboring tissues, it may damage a blood vessel and cause bleeding.
- Blood in the sputum could be due to lung cancer.
- Abnormal menstrual bleeding or vaginal discharge could be due to cancer of the cervix or cancer of the endometrium of the uterus.
- Blood in urine could be due to cancer of the kidneys or bladder.
- Discharge tinged with blood from the nipple could be due to breast cancer.
- Blood in stools could be due to colorectal cancer or cancer of the stomach.
- Bleeding from the nose could be due to leukemia.
15) Jaundice could be due to liver cancer or cancer of the pancreas.
16) Shortness of breath could indicate lung cancer.
17) Blood in stools. Bleeding per rectum can be due to ulcers, hemorrhoids, or infection in the gastrointestinal (G.I.) tract. Frank blood (bright red) indicates a problem in the lower GI tract, such as the rectum or the lower part of the intestines. Dark or brownish-colored blood indicates that the bleeding is in the upper part of the G.I. tract, such as the esophagus, stomach, or intestines.
Common cancer symptoms in men
Cancers exclusively seen in men include cancer of the prostate, testicular cancer, and penile cancer. The latter two are rare.
Testicular cancer symptoms may include:
- A painless or painful swelling in either testicle
- Testicular or scrotal pain with or without swelling
- Heaviness in the scrotum
- Mild pain in the lower abdomen
Penile cancer symptoms may include:
- Swelling and change in the color of the penile skin
- Lump or lumps on the penis
- Bleeding ulcer on the penis·
- Discharge or bleeding from under the penile skin
- Subcutaneous lumps in the groin area
Prostate cancer symptoms may include
- Increased frequency of urine
- Weak urine flow
- The need to strain to fully empty the bladder
- The urge to urinate more often at night
- Hematuria (blood in the urine)
- Erectile dysfunction.
- Burning sensation while passing urine
Common cancer symptoms in women
Cancers that exclusively affect women include cancers of the breast, uterus, cervix, and vagina.
Breast cancer symptoms include
- A new lump in the breast or in the armpit
- Swelling of part of the breast
- Dimpling of breast skin
- Change in color and nature of the skin in the nipple area or the breast.
- Pain in the nipple area
I would like to reiterate and emphasize here that these signs and symptoms could be due to other non-malignant reasons also. So do not panic if you experience these symptoms. It could be and is most probably due to a non-malignant cause. But, be aware and get malignancy ruled out. The fact does remain that these are the early signs of cancer, which come as a warning.