Know your body, recognize when it may be trying to warn you about something, and don’t ignore certain symptoms.
Keep in mind that some of your body’s signs may be more subtle than others. To help you identify which should raise a red flag, here are six of the most common symptoms to look out for and which type of cancer they may be linked to, according to Anita Johnson, MD, FAS, Medical Director of Breast Surgical Oncology at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
1. Abdominal bloating/feeling full too quickly, and pelvic pain. If you’re feeling bloated all of the time, seem to feel full quickly (or have difficulty eating), and are experiencing pelvic pressure or abdominal pain, this may indicate ovarian cancer, explains Dr. Johnson. Another sign may be a change in bladder habits, like always having the urge to go to the bathroom. Most of these symptoms can also be caused by other less serious conditions, but if your gut tells you that this is a stark change from how you usually feel, schedule an appointment with your Ob/Gyn immediately.
2. Painful urination, abnormal bleeding after menopause: If you seem to have trouble urinating, or unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge (especially after menopause), this could signify uterine cancer. There are different types of uterine cancer, but the most common type starts in the endometrium, the lining of the uterus—which is why it’s also referred to as endometrial cancer. There’s no test for this disease, so it’s discovered primarily when you experience symptoms, according to the American Cancer Society. Here are some other symptoms to be aware of. Do yourself a favor and get checked out.
3. Depression, unexplained weight loss, and changes in the color of urine and skin. According to Dr. Johnson, depression, if supported by other symptoms such as loss of appetite and weight loss and a “gnawing pain in your abdomen,” often precedes most cases of pancreatic cancer. A tumor or cancer in the pancreas may grow without any symptoms at first, which is why it’s often advanced when first found. Pancreatic cancer is slightly more common in women than in men, and the risk increases with age. Some other early symptoms to be mindful of are dark urine and clay-colored stools, as well as any changes in the color of your skin (particularly if it seems yellowish). If you experience any of the hallmarks of this condition, including any or all of these symptoms, see your physician and discuss, advises Dr. Johnson.
4. Changes in bowel habits and blood in your stool: These signs are often confused with inflammatory bowel disease, but they can actually be early symptoms of colon cancer. If you notice a change in your bowel habits, like diarrhea or constipation that lasts for more than a few days and/or rectal bleeding, dark stools or blood in the stool, this can be a cause for concern. “It can be confusing as to which part of your body the blood may be coming from (e.g. vagina vs. colon),” acknowledges Dr. Johnson. See your doctor to confirm your symptoms.
5. Skin changes; increase in the size of lymph nodes under the arm. While the warning signs for breast cancer can be different for everyone, the most common ones to look out for are changes in the look or feel of your breast and nipples, as well as nipple discharge. A lump, hard knot, or ‘thickening’ inside the breast or underarm area can also be indicators. While screening mammography remains the best tool to discover early breast cancers, some other signs that can help identify the cancer early are skin changes. Keep an eye on your skin: Some breast cancers show up as red or thickened skin rather than the expected lump. Look for peeling/flaking of the nipple or redness (pitting) on the skin over your breast. If you notice any other skin changes, like changes in the color, size, shape, or feel of warts, moles, or freckles, you should also see a doctor right away since it may be a melanoma.
6. Hoarseness, shortness of breath, and unexplained shoulder pain. A nagging cough or hoarseness may be a sign of lung cancer, according to Dr. Johnson. Hoarseness can also be a sign of cancer of the voice box (larynx) or thyroid gland. If the cancer is growing, you might have more unusual symptoms like shoulder pain or paralysis of the vocal cords. Warning signs aren’t always there or easy to pick up on, so here are some other symptoms to watch out for.
It’s important to know your own body so you’re more likely to discover changes and react to them faster. If you have symptoms similar to these almost daily for more than two weeks, and they can’t be explained by other more common conditions, document them and take the questions/concerns to your doctor right away. Check out some other early signs of cancer from the American Cancer Society here.
If the cause of your symptoms is cancer, getting it diagnosed and treated early offers you a much better chance of a good prognosis, so stay on top of your health.