Cancer Warning Signs


Researchers have made large strides in the fight against cancer. Still, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that there will be an astonishing 1,658,370 new cases of cancer in 2015. From a global standpoint, cancer is also one of the leading causes of premature death. Sometimes it can develop without warning. For the majority of cases, however, there are warning signs. The earlier you detect possible signs of cancer, the better the chances of survival.

Most Common Cancers

According to the NCI, the following cancers are the most prevalent in the United States:

  • bladder cancer
  • breast cancer
  • colon cancer
  • leukemia
  • lung cancer
  • melanoma
  • non-Hodgkins lymphoma
  • pancreatic cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • thyroid cancer

The precise symptoms can vary between forms of cancer. Furthermore, some cancers, such as those of the pancreas, may not cause symptoms right away. Still, there are some telltale warning signs to look out for.

Weight Changes

As cancer cells attack healthy ones, your body may respond by losing weight. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), many undiagnosed cancer patients unexpectedly lose 10 pounds or more. In fact, this may be the very first sign of cancer.

Unexplained weight loss can happen in other health conditions, such as hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Still, the difference with cancer is that it can come on rather suddenly. It is most prominent in cancers of the:

  • esophagus
  • lung
  • pancreas
  • stomach

Fever or Blood Loss

Fever is the body’s response to an infection or illness. People who have cancer will often have a fever as a symptom but it is usually a sign that the cancer has spread to a new area or that it is affecting the immune system. Fever is rarely an early sign of cancer but may be if a person has a blood cancer, such as leukemia or lymphoma.

Some cancers may also cause unusual bleeding. For instance, colon or rectal cancer might cause bloody stools, while blood in the urine may be a sign of prostate or bladder cancer. It’s important to report such symptoms or any unusual discharge to your doctor for analysis.

Blood loss may be more discreet in stomach cancer.

Pain and Tiredness

Unexplained fatigue may be another symptom of cancer, and is one of the most common signs. Tiredness that doesn’t seem to go away despite adequate sleep could be a sign of an underlying health problem — cancer is just one possibility. The ACS says that tiredness is most prominent in leukemia. Fatigue can also be related to blood loss from other cancers.

In some cases, cancer that has spread (metastasized) can cause pain. For example, back pain may be present in cancers of the:

  • colon
  • prostate
  • ovaries
  • rectum

Persistent Cough

Cough can occur for a number of reasons. It is your body’s natural way of getting rid of unwanted substances, and it can happen from colds, allergies, the flu, or even low humidity. When it comes to lung cancer, however, the cough can persist for a long time despite remedies. The cough may be frequent, and it can cause hoarseness. As the disease progresses, you may even cough up blood.

A persistent cough is also sometimes a symptom of thyroid cancer.

Skin Changes

Skin changes are most often linked to skin cancer, where moles or warts change or enlarge. Certain skin changes may also indicate other forms of cancer. For instance, white spots in the mouth can indicate oral cancer. Lumps or bumps underneath the skin can be tumors, such as in breast cancer.

Cancer can cause other skin changes, such as:

  • dark spots (hyperpigmentation)
  • increased hair growth
  • jaundice (yellow eyes and skin)
  • redness

Cancers with No Warning Signs

While many cancers have symptoms, some forms are more discreet. Such is the case with pancreatic cancer, which may not show any signs until it has progressed to an advanced stage. A family history of the disease, as well as frequent pancreatic swelling (inflammation) may increase your risk. If this is the case, your doctor may recommend regular cancer screenings.

Some cases of lung cancer may also cause subtle symptoms outside of the well-known cough. Certain types may increase blood calcium levels, which may not be detected without lab work.

Despite the warning signs (or lack thereof), it is impossible to know how an individual might respond to a certain type of cancer. The symptoms vary.


According to the NCI, 589,430 people may die from cancer in 2015. Men are more likely to suffer fatal cases, as compared to women. At the same time, 19 million are expected to survive cancer by 2024.

The key to becoming a statistic in the latter group is to take charge of your health. Be sure not to miss out on your annual checkups, and make sure you do all screenings as recommended by your doctor — this is especially important if certain cancers run in your family. By dealing with the warning signs early, you may improve your chances of eventually being cancer-free.

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