According to the CDC, an average of 69.8% of women over 50 have had a mammogram in the last two years, but cancer isn’t always caught in the screening tests, especially in early stages. Many cancer signs mimic symptoms of other diseases or conditions, so it’s easy to brush them aside. So, don’t rely on routine tests alone to protect you from cancer. It’s just as important to listen to your body and notice anything that’s different, odd, or unexplainable.
Here are some symptoms, which are serious even if they don’t always mean cancer, people will often overlook or ignore that could be harmful in the long run:
A chronic cough, chest pain, wheezing, or shortness of breath
Several types of cancer, including leukemia and lung tumors, can cause symptoms that mimic a bad cough or bronchitis. Some lung cancer patients report chest pain that extends up into the shoulder or down the arm.
An unusual lump is the telltale sign of breast cancer women are told to look for. But other breast changes can signal cancer. If you notice the skin of your breast becoming dimpled, a nipple inverting, swelling, tenderness, or slight discoloration of the skin to a deeper red or pink, it could be cause for concern.
Swollen lymph nodes or lumps in the neck, underarms, or groin
If you have swollen lymph nodes or difficulty swallowing solids and liquids that’s progressively getting worse, it may be a fungal infection or it can also be cancer of the lymph nodes or esophageal tract – either way, it requires a doctor’s intervention.
Bloating, abdominal pain, change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, and/or blood in stool or urine
Women are natural bloaters but if it doesn’t go away in a week or two, it’s time to see your doctor – especially if it’s combined with bleeding or unplanned weight loss. All of these may mean ovarian cancer, but can also mean colon, bladder, or kidney cancer.
If a mole or two is changing shape/color/size, it’s time to see your doctor immediately.
Stress, alcohol and too much food (and all three!) can cause heartburn. Try changing your diet for a couple weeks and see if it goes away… If it doesn’t? You may have stomach, esophageal, or ovarian cancer.
Weakness or fatigue
Generalized fatigue and weakness is a symptom of so many different kinds of cancer that you’ll need to look at it in combination with other symptoms. But any time you feel exhausted without explanation and it doesn’t respond to getting more sleep, talk to your doctor.
A cold sore that heals is probably nothing to worry about, nor is a toothache that goes away after a trip to the dentist. But if you notice sores that don’t heal, pain that sticks around, white or red patches on the gums or tongue, and any swelling or numbness of the jaw it could be a sign of some mouth cancers.
Heavy bleeding or bleeding between periods
Numerous people report this as the first indicator of uterine or endometrial cancer. Ask your doctor for a transvaginal ultrasound.
Pain, particularly in the back
Many cancer patients say this was the first sign of liver cancer. Breast cancer is also often diagnosed via back pain, which can occur when a breast tumor presses backward into the chest, or when cancer spreads to the spine or ribs.
Changes in the nails
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 sometimes be a sign of liver cancer.
Abdominal pain accompanied by depression
While this one is rare, it’s also overlooked. Unexplained belly pain with depression can mean pancreatic cancer. If your family has a history of the disease or you are a heavy drinker, then you should get in to a doctor straight away. Otherwise, if the pain doesn’t go away in a couple weeks, it would be a good idea to see a doctor anyway.
Frequent infection and fever
A high temperature that can’t be explained and just doesn’t go away can mean leukemia or another blood cancer, share your concerns with your doctor immediately.
It isn’t something people talk about, but smelly or foul vaginal discharge can be a symptom of cervical cancer. The discharge may occur between periods or after menopause and sometimes will have blood in it. It’s best not to self-treat discharge changes with over-the-counter medications and visit your doctor. At the very least, it could be an infection and most of those can’t be treated with over-the-counter medications.
Unexplained weight loss
Weight loss is an early sign of colon and other digestive cancers; it’s also a sign of cancer that’s spread to the liver, affecting your appetite and the ability of your body to rid itself of wastes.