Cancer Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

In this Thursday, May 6, 2010 file photo, a radiologist uses a magnifying glass to check mammograms for breast cancer in Los Angeles. A big U.S. study published in the Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012 New England Journal of Medicine shows that mammograms have done surprisingly little to catch deadly cancers before they spread. At the same time, they have led more than a million women to be treated for growths that never would have threatened their lives. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

When it comes to aches, pains, and other health problems, many ailments seem minor. But just because something seems minor does not mean you should not take it seriously. In fact, research shows that some common, seemingly minor ailments are actually the first warning signs of cancer. Unfortunately, many people ignore such signs and symptoms or underestimate how serious they are — and the thought of cancer rarely comes to mind.

Thankfully, for the vast majority, these ailments or warning signs will not indicate cancer. But for a few people, they might. Going to the doctor to get your symptoms checked — sooner rather than later — could save your life. No symptom should ever be ignored or overlooked, especially if it has lasted a long time or is getting worse.

Symptoms to Take Seriously

For example, unusual bleeding. For both men and women, blood in the stool could be a sign of colon or rectal cancer, while blood in the urine can signal bladder or kidney cancer. Unexplained vaginal bleeding could indicate cervical or endometrial cancer and coughing up blood can signal lung cancer. Unusual bleeding can occur during any phase of cancer and definitely warrants a visit to your doctor to examine further.

Nowadays, most people associate lumps or bumps in the breasts as potential warning signs of breast cancer and know to have any strange lumps checked out by a doctor. However, often people overlook other symptoms, such as a red, sore, or swollen breast or nipple irritation and changes, that can also be a sign of breast cancer.

Then there’s coughing. Often, coughs are associated with colds, flu, asthma, acid reflux, or other respiratory infections, and they go away in days or a few weeks. But a persistent cough that lingers can be a symptom of lung cancer. If you do not smoke, then there is little chance that a lingering cough is a sign of cancer. But if your cough does not go away — particularly if you are a smoker — then see your doctor right away. More than half of people diagnosed with lung cancer have a chronic cough at the time of diagnosis.

Cancer Screening Matters

Getting screened for cancer is one of the most important things you can do to keep yourself healthy. Screening can help doctors not only find cancer, but in some cases, screening can also detect pre-cancerous conditions that can be treated before cancer has a chance to develop. Regular screening is linked to early detection, which is important because when abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat. Often, by the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread and is harder to treat.

From risk and screening, to diagnosis and treatment, United Medical Center (UMC) expert physicians and staff can help you every step of the way. As part of our commitment to working for a healthier community, UMC will host a Cancer Awareness Day on Saturday, May 20, 2017, to help community members learn about cancer risk, screening, treatment options, and tips for staying healthy. Attendees will walk away equipped and empowered to make healthier lifestyle changes that can lower their cancer risks; to take charge of their health by getting the right recommended screenings based on their age, gender and risk factors; and to ask questions and address any concerns they may have with their doctor.

This article is meant to offer general health information. Please call us at 202.574.6141 or speak to your physician for a medical assessment of any symptoms you may have.