14 Cancer Signs And Symptoms You Should Know
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14 Cancer Signs And Symptoms You Should Know

Dr. Khoobsurat Najma
4 min read

14 Cancer Signs And Symptoms You Should Know

  • 1 Comment

In most cases, cancer does not have any specific symptoms. Hence, it is extremely important that people have knowledge about risk factors that contribute to cancer and undergo timely screening for various cancers.

Most screening tests for cancers are specific to certain age groups, and your doctor will inform you about the timelines to get these screening tests done. Risk factors contributing to cancer include smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol, high sun exposure, and a family history of cancers. People confronting such risk factors should always be acutely aware of the possible symptoms of cancer, and if they detect any such symptoms a doctor should immediately be consulted. The best way to fight cancer is an awareness of the types of cancers and their risk factors, which thereby eliminates or reduces risk factors. Undergoing regular screening too helps in an early detection, early diagnosis, and, hence, effective treatment.


Although most of the time cancer may not be accompanied by specific signs and symptoms, especially in the early stages, by being aware of some signs and symptoms, it is possible to detect cancer at its early stages so that it can be treated effectively. Here are some of the common signs and symptoms that may indicate cancer:

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  1. A persistent cough or blood-tinged saliva
Having a cough that is persistent or worsens over time could sometimes be an early indicator of lung cancer. Although mostly the symptoms of a cough and blood-tinged saliva are a result of an allergic condition, bronchitis, or sinusitis, they could also point towards cancer of the lung, head, and neck. If a person is experiencing a nagging irritant cough that lasts over 6 weeks or is tinged with blood or mucous, a doctor should be consulted right away.

2. A change in bowel habits

Most of the times, changes in bowel habits are due to dietary changes and changes in fluid intake. Constipation and diarrhoea are also common in irritable bowel syndrome. However, persistent pencil-thin stools are sometimes linked to colon cancer. Occasionally, cancer could present itself as continuous diarrhoea. Sometimes, it gives the urge to have a bowel movement and the feeling persists even after that. If a person experiences such symptoms over a few weeks it is best to get a thorough clinical evaluation done to rule out possible risks of cancer.

3. Blood in the stool

Blood in the stool is always a red flag. Most of the times, the blood occurs due to piles (haemorrhoids). But since piles could sometimes exist along with cancer, it is very important to get it checked. The doctor may advise X-ray studies or colonoscopy to establish a diagnosis.

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4. Unexplained drop in haemoglobin (anaemia)

Anaemia is a condition in which a person has low haemoglobin levels. A sudden drop in haemoglobin level in a person, who is otherwise eating a healthy diet and has no underlying medical condition, should always be thoroughly investigated. The most common cause of anaemia is iron deficiency which is easily detected by a simple blood test. There are many cancers that cause anaemia. Bowel cancers usually cause iron deficiency anaemia. The investigations that are usually carried out in case of unexplained iron deficiency anaemia are blood counts, endoscopy, and X-ray studies of your upper and lower intestinal tracts.

5. Breast lump or breast discharge

Most lumps in the breasts are non-cancerous tumors known as fibroadenomas or cysts. But all lumps in the breasts must be thoroughly investigated. In case of a lump, the doctor will suggest a mammogram (X-ray of the breasts) to check the lump further. Also, in case of any discharge from the nipples, especially if it contains blood, it is very important to get it checked by a doctor. A negative mammogram does not necessarily rule out breast cancer. The doctor will also perform a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and an ultrasound of the breasts to rule out breast cancer. Sometimes, the doctor may also perform a biopsy (fine-needle aspiration biopsy) to evaluate the lump further. Doctors recommend all women to conduct monthly breast self-examinations.

6. Lumps in the testicles

Most cases of testicular cancer (90 per cent) emerge as painless or uncomfortable lumps in a testicle. Sometimes, testicular cancer could present as an enlarged testicle. Mostly, a pain in the testicles or swollen veins is due to infections or other non-cancerous testicular conditions; however, any lump needs a thorough investigation.

7. A change in the pattern of urination

Urinary symptoms—such as passing a small amount of urine, frequent urination, slow urine flow, or changes in bladder functions—should be investigated. Mostly, men have these symptoms due to a harmless enlargement of the prostate gland which is easily treatable by medication. These symptoms could also be a result of a urinary tract infection which can be treated after taking a course of antibiotics. However, men who continue to have such symptoms need to undergo a screening for prostate cancer. This includes ultrasound and various blood investigations. The doctor may also advise a biopsy if he/she suspects prostate cancer.

8. Blood in the urine

The presence of blood in the urine, known as hematuria, can be a result of severe urinary infection, kidney stones, or malignant conditions. It could sometimes be a symptom of kidney or bladder cancer or other causes. Any episode of the presence of blood in the urine should be investigated.

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9. Hoarseness/change in voice

Hoarseness that is not a result of an infection of the respiratory tract or that lasts for over 4 weeks must be evaluated. Hoarseness could be a result of a simple allergy or a vocal cord polyp, but it could sometimes be an early sign of throat cancer and should, therefore, be investigated.

10. Swollen glands or persistent lumps

Lumps are mostly harmless in nature and represent benign conditions like a cyst. But it a lump does not go away it should be investigated. Swollen lymph glands are usually a result of an infection and disappear in a few weeks. But if a lymph gland remains swollen for over 4 weeks it must be checked to rule out cancer.

11. Any obvious change in a mole

Moles that are multicoloured and have an irregular edge or a bleed need to be investigated as they could be cancerous. Moles that are larger are more worrisome, especially, if their size continues to increase.

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12. Indigestion or a difficulty in swallowing

Most people who have chronic acidity and acid reflux usually do not have any serious underlying problem. But people who continue to have symptoms despite taking medications need to undergo Upper GI endoscopy to rule out stomach cancer. Persistent acid reflux can lead to a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus, which, in turn, can lead to cancer of the oesophagus, and must be treated and monitored by a doctor. Also, problems in swallowing, especially in elderly people, also need to be investigated for oesophageal cancer which can be treated with medication and then monitored by a doctor.

13. Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge

Unusual vaginal bleeding or a bloody discharge may be an early sign of uterine cancer. If a woman complains of bleeding after intercourse or bleeding between periods, she needs to be investigated for cancer. Post-menopausal bleeding in women who are not on any hormone treatment also needs an evaluation. Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women and is caused by a virus called human papilloma virus. This virus can be easily picked by a routine test called Pap Smear. Women must include Pap Smear in their routine examination for cervical-cancer screening.

14 Headaches

Headaches have many causes—migraine, sinusitis, aneurysms—but generally, cancer is not considered a common cause. However, a severe headache that is unrelenting in nature and that feels different from a usual headache could be a sign of cancer. If the headache fails to improve with medication a doctor must be contacted immediately.

So if you or anyone in your family has been experiencing any of these symptoms, it is best to seek a doctor’s opinion and get a thorough clinical evaluation done. Remember, early detection can be a lifesaver in cancer.

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