When women do suspect something, fear sometimes prevents them from seeing a doctor right away. It has been found that many a times women misinterpret symptoms that could point to cancer. If you acknowledge the signs & symptoms in very early phase, certainly you will change or prevent your life, from dreaded disease like cancer. But presence of warning signs do not mean cancer,-even if you have all of them. There are many other benign conditions or physiological changes that can also cause warning signs. For example, you can have bloating, low back pain and lower abdominal heaviness and just have uterine fibroids. But if these symptoms are persistent and progressive — even for 2 weeks, you should worry and get the same checked out immediately. Regular checkups and screening tests such as Pap smears and mammograms, as well as knowing your own body, are all crucial for good health.
Which changes or symptoms are worth to draw your physician’s attention? And you need to keep on your mind.
If you feel a lump, you shouldn’t ignore it, even if your mammogram is normal. If your nipple gets scaly or starts flaking & itching (eczematous look) that could indicate Paget’s disease of the nipple (underlying cancer in about 95% of cases). Any milky or bloody discharge from nipple must be checked out.
Dimpling of the skin over the breast which looks like skin on an orange in medical term known as peau d’ orange, “is most often indicate to breast cancer and if it is associated with swollen, hot, red breasts -an aggressive breast cancer i.e. inflammatory breast cancer.
Around menopause, abnormal bleeding is often tied to hormonal shifts. Any postmenopausal bleeding is a warning sign and any bleeding, staining, little drops on your underwear especially post-coital or big clots are abnormal and should be immediately investigated. Such bleeding something might be due to benign conditions like an endometrial polyp but in most of the instance indicate serious disease like endometrial or cervical cancer. Every vaginal bleeding that is unusual for you — spotting outside of your normal menstrual cycle or heavier periods — should be looked or checked properly.
Third most common cancer in women is colon cancer and rectal bleeding. Many female link this to haemorrhoids, the most common cause, but it’s not always true. Frequent red or dark blood in stool warrants for colorectal cancer (if you’re 50 or older) which can be clarified by a rectal exam and colonoscopy .
An exam is necessary to determine if the discharge is due to an infection or something more serious.
Ovarian cancer is the number one silent killer of all the reproductive-organ cancers. Ovarian cancer clearly has most common quadruple symptoms; bloating feeling (getting full earlier than typically would when eating), changing bowel or bladder habits (urinating more frequently), low back and pelvic pain. It is usual to have one or two of these symptoms, particularly after a big meal, but two or more symptoms daily for more than 2 weeks duration, must be investigated properly.
A foul or fishy smelly vaginal discharge may contain blood and may occur between periods or after menopause could be a symptom of cervical cancer. It is best not to self-treat a discharge with over-the-counter medications rather show yourself to doctor.
Unexplained Weight Gain or Loss:
Gaining excess weight month to month — especially if you usually maintain a normal weight. Watch what you eat, the weight gain can be due to a build up of fluid in the belly (Ascites) related to ovarian cancer and warrants a urgent check-up. Unexplained weight loss of 5-10kg or more than 10% of your body weight especially within six months may be the first sign of cancer and most often linked to pancreatic, stomach, oesophagus and lung cancer. But first must be rule out thyroid disease related weight loss.
Any persistent cough that lasts more than three weeks and is not due to an allergy or upper respiratory infection, or associated with blood in sputum (haemoptysis) requires to be checked. Increased chance of having lung cancer if it is associated with active or second hand smoking as we know. Smoking is the number one cancer killer of women.
Change in Lymph Nodes:
If there is any firm or hard mass lesion (lymph nodes) in your neck or under your arm, you must consult the doctor. Swollen, firm lymph nodes are often caused by an infection but lymphoma(cancer of lymphatic system) or lung, breast, head, or neck cancer that has spread can also manifests as an enlarged lymph node.
Extreme tiredness that does not get better with rest- may be symptom of Leukemia, colon, or stomach cancer – which can cause blood loss. Fatigue can be a serious problem and it’s easy to ignore.
Any changes on your skin all over your body must rule out any serious problem. Sores in the mouth that don’t heal (especially related with smoking or drinking alcohol)- may be signs of oral cancer and should be checked. Any non-healing sores or irritated skin in vaginal region could be a sign of Vulvar Cancer. Rapidly changes in size, colour and nature of moles or pigmented lesions on the vulva may be Vulvar melanoma.
Watch for all of these symptoms. If you notice something different about your body, get it checked out as early as possible. You do not need to be panic, but you should not assume these signs are ‘nothing’. Most likely it’s not cancer, but if it is, cancer is treatable; often it is curable if detected in early stage.