Signs that you may have cancer are not always what you expect, which is why it is advisable to have some of these checked out before it is too late. JACQUELINE MAHUGU pores through the latest findings in science and research.
1. Unexplained bloody discharges
If you are letting out blood for no obvious reason such as being on your period or from a cut, then you need to get it looked at. That could be blood in your mucus, urine, stool, vaginal blood when not on your period and so forth. Blood in your urine could be a sign of cancer of the bladder or kidneys, blood in the mucus can be a sign of lung cancer, blood in the stool could be a sign of colorectal cancer, while non-menstrual blood from the vagina could be a sign of cervical, endometrial cancer (uterine cancer), ovarian cancer, vaginal cancer among others.
2. Unexplained weight loss
If you suddenly lose more than 5kg without intending to do so and with no changes in your daily diet and exercise regimen, that could be a sign of cancer, especially pancreatic, stomach, esophageal or lung cancer. Dr Loana Bonta, MD, a medical oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Atlanta says that cancer secretes hormones that causes mass wasting, meaning that people with cancer will generally lose weight.
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3. Recurrent pneumonia
Cancertherapyadvisor.com defines recurrent pneumonia as three or more episodes of pneumonia in a lifetime or two or more episodes within a six-month period, with the most common symptoms being coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing and chest discomfort. If you experience that without a reasonable explanation, and especially if you have not had pneumonia before, it is time to look for the root cause.
4. Persistent cough or blood in your saliva
If you have a cough that has lasted more than eight weeks and does not go away with treatment, it could be a sign of something more serious. Blood, as well, is usually not a good sign when you cannot explain it, and either or both of these symptoms could be a sign of lung, head or neck cancer.
5. Unexplained lumps
Lumps associated with cancer are usually painless, and therefore easy to ignore. According to emedicinehealth.com, 90 per cent of men with testicular cancer experience lumps on their testicles. Women typically know not to ignore lumps in the breasts, but lumps can occur in other parts of the body such as in the armpit, neck, groin or abdomen. If you notice one that does not go away or that continues growing, get it checked as soon as possible.
6. Changes in bowel habits
If you are not drinking more copious amounts of water or changed your eating habits but are suddenly needing to visit the bathroom a lot more (or less), this could be a sign that your body is in trouble. Changes in urinary habits could be a sign of bladder or prostate cancer, while constipation or diarrhea could be a sign of colon or ovarian cancer.
7. Consistent fever and/or night sweats
Fever is usually a sign that your body is trying to fight off something, so a fever that does not go away even after a week or two or treatment may be a sign that your body is fighting something bigger than a regular infection, and may actually be trying to fight off cancer. If you wake up drenched in sweat in the middle of the night, it may be a sign of cancer, especially lymphoma or leukemia.
8. Changes in warts or moles
Any sudden appearance of warts or moles should be investigated, and especially if they start growing or changing in shape. In addition, if they have irregular edges or bleed, you should have them checked out. Such changes or characteristics in moles on your body can be a sign of skin cancer. Marks on your body that you have always had should also be checked and monitored, as changes in them could also be a cause for worry.
9. Persistent sores
Sores that do not heal could be a sign of cancer, if they persist for more than a month even with treatment. If in your mouth, on your gums or in your tongue, these could be a symptom of oral cancer or skin cancer. It is especially crucial to get checked for these if you are a smoker or drinker. Sores on the genitals could also be a sign of vulvar or vaginal cancers.
10. Persistent heartburn
Usually, popping some antacids in your mouth is enough to manage a heartburn. However, if you have heartburn that never goes away, you may have Barrett esophagus, which can be treated, but if not taken care of in good time can lead to cancer of the esophagus. This is sometimes accompanied by difficulty swallowing.