It’s October and that means Breast Cancer Awareness Month is in full swing. But not all cancers are pink.
While many women are taught to perform self-exams on their breasts and to be on the look out for lumps and bumps, they may not be aware of these other important cancer symptoms. In fact, Reader’s Digest recently named these 15 health changes as the “15 Cancer Symptoms Women Are Likely to Ignore.”
Be aware of these commonly ignored cancer symptoms so you can detect cancer early.
15-40 Connection’s goal is to educate people of all ages to recognize cancer early. When it comes to cancer, early detection saves lives.
While many articles touch on ways to “prevent” cancer, it is important to note that sometimes, it is truly out of your control. Between family history, heritage, age, gender, and ethnicity, there are many things that are in your DNA and affect your cancer risk.
That’s why we are sharing these 15 commonly ignored symptoms in hopes that women will become aware of their health and seek medical attention when necessary.
1. Abnormal periods or pelvic pain
Abnormal periods are not uncommon. Your period can be impacted by many factors such as pregnancy, menopause, obesity, thyroid conditions, endometriosis, benign ovarian cysts, or even stress. However, when you begin to have sudden, significant changes in your cycle, it is time to see a doctor. Changes such as having significantly heavier periods month after month should be looked into. Pelvic pain and irregular bleeding can be a sign of cervical, ovarian, or other gynecological cancers.
Bloating after eating a heavy meal or during your cycle? That’s normal. Bloating every day with no known cause? Not so much.
Bloating, or consistently feeling constipated, can be a sign of ovarian or uterine cancer. Rich Wender, MD, chief cancer control officer for the American Cancer Society, says, “If it’s been a few weeks and isn’t getting better, that’s a change… that’s not you. Ask a doctor to take a closer look.”
If you’re popping a Gas-X everyday, it’s time to see a doctor.
3. Blood in the stool
Seeing blood in your stool can be scary. However, many people are quick to blame hemorrhoids or constipation.
While hemorrhoids are extremely common (roughly 75 percent of the population will get them at some point in their lives), blood in the stool should never be dismissed without seeking medical attention. Blood in a bowel movement is never normal and should always be checked out.
4. Breast dimpling, discoloration, or other changes
Women are very aware that lumps and bumps in the breast can be a sign of breast cancer. However, breast dimpling is a lesser-known symptom that should be taken seriously.
Other breast cancer symptoms include swelling, tenderness, skin discoloration, and even nipple inversion. It’s important to remember that if you have these symptoms it does not mean that you definitely have cancer. However, it’s important not to overlook these symptoms just because they do not seem important. It is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health!
5. Chronic coughing
Is it the common cold, allergies, the flu, or something more?
Everyone gets sick from time to time. But if you develop a cough that lasts two weeks or more and do not have any other typical cold symptoms, it may be a sign of lung cancer or leukemia. Coughing up blood is also a red flag that something needs immediate attention.
6. Chronic headaches
If you have no history of migraines and typically do not get headaches, a sudden onset of chronic headaches could signal that something is wrong. For Joel, sudden onset headaches were a sign of lymphoma. Dave McGrath was diagnosed with brain cancer after seeing a doctor for his headaches and double vision.
If you have already been diagnosed with migraines and your treatment is working, there likely isn’t any reason to be concerned. However, if you have never had a problem with headaches and suddenly find yourself desperate for a dark, quiet room, this health change should be discussed with your doctor.
7. Difficulty swallowing
Difficulty swallowing can be caused by a simple sore throat, but if it persistent it may be a sign of throat, stomach, or lung cancer. For Leah and Andy, difficulty swallowing was caused by thyroid cancer.
Always use the two-week rule – if it lasts for more than two weeks, it’s time to see a doctor. Even if the difficulty is being caused by a non-cancerous infection, early detection will help you diagnose it and begin treatment so you will feel better, sooner!
8. Excessive bruising
If you’re clumsy, it’s probably not too much of a surprise, or concern, if you find a few random bruises here or there. But if you start to notice bruises popping up all the time, especially in bizarre places such as your hands or fingers, it could be something serious.
9. Frequent fevers or infection
Do you find yourself taking crazy amounts of pain relievers or fever reducers? Besides likely doing some serious damage to your liver, you are not helping your body by treating something without determining the cause first.
Brenna, a lymphoma survivor, revealed in a recent 15-40 Connection cancer survivor video that one of the first signs of her cancer was frequent and unusual infections, such as pink eye and strep throat, as well as persistent fevers. If you begin to have seemingly random illnesses one after another, bring up your concerns with a doctor.
10. Noticeable skin changes
You probably learned the ABCs in elementary school… but do you know the ABCDEs? The ABCDEs of Melanoma help you tell the difference between a suspicious spot and a run-of-the-mill freckle.
Asymmetry: one half doesn’t look like the other
Border: irregular edges, blurry or sketchy
Color: varied and inconsistent, both black and brown
Diameter: bigger than the size of a pencil eraser – 6mm
Evolution: any mole that changes over time
11. Persistent fatigue
Let us begin by saying that just because you feel tired doesn’t mean you have cancer.
That being said, you should see a doctor if you find yourself feeling absolutely exhausted every day, even after a good night’s sleep, for more than two weeks.
There are many things that can cause you to feel tired. Some of the most common medical causes of fatigue are anemia and depression. However, cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma often present as a change in energy level. Try to remember how you feel when you feel great, this way you will be able to easily recognize changes in your health.
Instead of increasing your trips to the local coffee shop to keep yourself awake, make an appointment to see your doctor and determine the cause.
12. Postmenopausal bleeding
If you have gone through menopause, meaning that you have not had a period for one year, a sudden onset of vaginal bleeding should always be brought up to a doctor.
Postmenopausal bleeding can occur as a result of hormone replacement therapy, infections such as a UTI, or noncancerous growths called polyps. However, postmenopausal bleeding can also be a sign of serious medical problems such as cervical or uterine cancer.
Do not ignore postmenopausal bleeding. Seek help quickly to get a diagnosis and treatment plan, no matter what the cause.
13. Sores or pain in the mouth
If you get a cold sore from time to time that heals after treatment, there is nothing to worry about.
The concern comes when you notice a sore that doesn’t heal, or any pain in the mouth that sticks around for more than two weeks. It’s also important to pay attention to swelling, numbness, or pain in the jaw.
14. Stomach pain or nausea
This is our most-clicked symptom on the 15-40 Connection website. And while we don’t want to jump to conclusions, we have a hunch as to why: everyone experiences stomach pain or nausea at some point.
In fact, upset stomachs are so common it would be irresponsible to claim that they mean you have cancer. More often than not, you probably ate something your body didn’t agree with, are experiencing more stress than usual, or have a gastrointestinal disorder such as IBS.
However, if you notice sudden and persistent stomach cramps that last more than two weeks, or are experiencing nausea that just won’t go away, it’s time to see a doctor. Stomach pain and nausea can be signs of leukemia or esophageal, liver, pancreatic, or colorectal cancer.
15. Unexplained weight loss
Weight loss is often overlooked by women because they see it as a good change, not a concerning one. Both sexes are more likely to see a doctor for weight gain than they are for weight loss.
However, weight loss, as well as sudden or unusual changes in appetite, can be a symptom of cancer. Esophageal, pancreatic, liver, and colon cancer can all cause weight loss, as well as leukemia or lymphoma.
Early detection saves lives. Learn how you can be an empowered patient with the 3 Steps Detect system:
The most important takeaway from these 15 symptoms is that any health change can be a symptom of cancer. In fact, a subtle but persistent health change that lasts two weeks or more is the most common cancer symptom.
By recognizing what your ‘normal’ is and knowing how you feel when you feel great, you will be able to easily recognize changes in your health. Once those health changes last more than two weeks, it is time to see a doctor.
Remember – when it comes to early cancer detection, your best chance is you!