With that healthy balance between denial and hypochondria in mind, we talk about the symptoms that may not immediately make a woman worry about cancer, but that should be checked by a doctor. Read on for 15 possible Cancer Symptoms women often ignore.
15 Cancer Symptoms Women Ignore:
1- Unexplained Weight Loss: Many women would be delighted to lose weight without trying. However, unexplained weight loss - say 10 pounds in a month without an increase in exercise or a decrease in food intake - should be checked,
2- Bloating: Bloating is so common that many women just live with it. However, persistent bloating could point to ovarian cancer. Other symptoms of ovarian cancer include abdominal pain or pelvic pain, feeling full quickly - even when you haven't eaten much and urinary problems such as having an urgent need to go to the toilet. If the bloating occurs almost every day and persists for more than a few weeks, you should consult your doctor.
3- Breast Changes: Most women know their breasts well, even if they don't do regular self-examinations, and know to be on the lookout for lumps. However, that's not the only breast symptom that could point to cancer. Redness and Thickening of the skin on the breast, which could indicate a very rare but aggressive form of breast cancer, Inflammatory breast cancer, also needs to be examined. If you have a rash that persists over weeks, you have to get it evaluated.
Likewise, if the look of a nipple changes, or if you notice discharge (and aren’t breastfeeding), seek medical advice. If it's outgoing normally and turns in, that's not a good sign. If your nipples are inverted chronically, no big deal. It's the change in appearance that could be a worrying symptom.
If you have breast changes, expect your doctor to take a careful history, examine the breast and possibly refer you to a specialist breast clinic where you’ll have tests that may include a mammogram, ultrasound, MRI and perhaps a biopsy.
4- Between-period bleeding or other unusual bleeding: Premenopausal women tend to ignore between-period bleeding. They also tend to ignore bleeding from the GI ( gastrointestinal) tract, mistakenly thinking it is from their period. However, bleeding between periods, especially if you are typically regular, needs checking. So does bleeding after menopause, as it could be a symptom of endometrial cancer. Rectal bleeding could be a symptom of bowel cancer. Cancer Research UK also recommends seeing a doctor if there is bleeding between periods or after menopause, as well as if there is bleeding after sex.
5- Skin Changes: Most of us know to look for any changes in moles - a well-known sign of skin cancer. However, we should also watch for changes in skin pigmentation. If you suddenly develop bleeding on your skin or excessive scaling, that should be checked, too. It's difficult to say how long is too long to observe skin changes before you go to the doctor, but most experts say not longer than a few weeks.
6- Difficulty Swallowing: If you have difficulty swallowing, you may have already changed your diet so chewing isn't so difficult, perhaps turning to soups or liquid foods such as protein shakes. However, that difficulty could be a sign of a gastrointestinal (GI) cancer, such as in the oesophagus. Cancer Research UK recommends seeing your doctor if the problem doesn’t go away after a couple of weeks. Expect your doctor to take a careful history and order tests such as a chest X-ray or an examination of the GI tract.
7- Blood in the Wrong Place: If you notice blood in your urine or your stool, don’t assume it's from a haemorrhoid. It could be bowel cancer.
8- Gnawing abdominal pain and depression: Any woman who has pain in the abdomen and is feeling depressed needs a check-up. Some researchers have found a link between depression and pancreatic cancer, but it's a poorly understood connection.
9- Indigestion: Women who have been pregnant may remember the indigestion that occurred as they gained weight. However, indigestion for no apparent reason may be a red flag. If you are having indigestion a lot, according to Cancer Research UK you should see your doctor. It could be an early clue to cancer of the oesophagus, stomach or throat.
10- Mouth Changes: Smokers should be especially alert for any white patches inside the mouth or white spots on the tongue. Both can point to a precancerous condition called leukoplakia that can progress to oral cancer. Ask your dentist or doctor to take a look and decide what should be done next.
11- Pain: As people age they seem to complain more of various aches and pains, but pain, as vague as it may be, can also be an early symptom of some cancers, although most pain complaints are not from cancer. Pain that persists and is unexplained needs to be investigated. Expect your doctor to take a careful history, and based on that information decide what further testing, if any, is needed.
12- Changes in the Lymph nodes: If you notice a lump or swelling in the lymph nodes under your armpit or in your neck - or anywhere else - it could be worrying, If you have a lymph node that gets progressively larger, and it's been longer than a month, see a doctor. Your doctor will examine you and determine any associated issues (such as infection) that could explain the lymph node enlargement. If there are none, your doctor will typically refer you for a biopsy.
13- Fever: If you have a fever that isn't explained by influenza or other infection, it could point to cancer. Fevers more often occur after cancer has spread from its original site, but it can also point to early blood cancers such as leukaemia or lymphoma. Other cancer symptoms can include jaundice, or a change in the colour of your stool. Expect your doctor to conduct a careful physical examination and take a medical history, and then order tests such as blood tests, chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI or other tests, depending on the findings.
14- Fatigue: Fatigue is another vague symptom that could point to cancer - as well as a host of other problems. It can set in after the cancer has grown, but it may also occur early in certain cancers, such as leukaemia or with some bowel or stomach cancers.
15- Persistent Cough: Coughs are expected with colds, the flu, allergies and sometimes are a side effect of medication. However, a very prolonged cough - defined as lasting more than three or four weeks - should not be ignored.