Don’t dismiss these symptoms, no matter how trivial they might seem. Getting checked out could save your life. You won’t always get a lump or a bump with cancer.
The signs can be much less obvious—and they could point to other health issues as well. It’s key to discuss any of the following symptoms with your doctor for a proper diagnosis.
A LUMP IN THE FRONT OF THE NECK
A suspicious neck lump could be a sign of lung, throat, thyroid, and breast cancers as well as leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and some forms of skin cancer. While the lumps can be benign or non-cancerous, they’re a bigger concern if you also have risk factors like smoking, drinking, or you’re getting up there in years.
Michael Tuttle, MD, an endocrinologist with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, says to pay attention to how the lump behaves. “The trick is [thyroid nodules] move up and down when you swallow,” Dr. Tuttle says. “Most other lumps don’t move.”
NOTICEABLE CHANGES IN A WART OR MOLE
Changes in color, shape, or size, of a wart, mole, or freckle could be melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Having fair skin is a primary risk factor; see a dermatologist yearly if your complexion is fair, you have a family history of melanoma, or you have more than 50 moles on your body, recommends Brian Hinds, MD, and Anna Di Nardo, MD, of the University of California, San Diego. If any freckles, beauty marks, or moles start to bleed, speak with your dermatologist.
PERSISTENT STOMACH OR ABDOMINAL PAIN
You may think your abdominal pain is simply indigestion or period cramps. However, if the discomfort locates itself in the upper-right abdomen region, this could be a symptom of gallbladder cancer. Persistent stomach cramps could also be a symptom of leukemia or esophageal, liver, pancreatic, colorectal, or testicular cancer. These other symptoms could be gallbladder cancer.
Ovarian, pancreatic, stomach, colon, liver, uterine, and breast cancers could all cause severe abdominal bloating. “With ovarian cancer, not only can tumors grow quite large, but they can result in fluid growing around them, which can cause pretty dramatic abdominal extension,” says Amanda Fader, MD, associate professor and director of Kelly Gynecologic Oncology Service at Johns Hopkins Medicine. If your abdomen is growing while your face and arms are losing muscle and fat, it probably isn’t just weight gain.
Telling the difference between a common headache and headaches from cancer is challenging—even for doctors. The best indicator of cancer, however, is a new daily headache that won’t go away with treatment, such as over-the-counter painkillers, according to Mike Chen, MD, Ph.D., associate professor in the division of neurosurgery, department of surgery, at City of Hope in California.
“These headaches tend to get worse over time and often happen first thing in the morning when intracranial pressure is high from lying in bed for long periods of time,” he says. However, there’s no specific type of headache that can predict whether or not a person has a brain tumor. Cancers in the brain, spinal cord, and upper throat, as well as some forms of lymphoma, pituitary gland tumors, and other cancers that spread to the brain, may also cause headaches.
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