In some ways, cancer testing has never been more sophisticated, and cancer awareness is at an all-time high. In other ways, it’s still primitive: there is still no regular screening test for ovarian cancer, the deadliest of gynecologic cancers. That’s why it’s crucial to be attuned to your health and alert to any changes, however subtle they may be.
“While cancer tests are very effective, it’s also helpful for patients to be in touch with their own body and their own symptoms,” says Taylor Graber, MD, an anesthesiologist at the University of California-San Diego and owner of ASAP IVs. “Patients know themselves best, and if there is a symptom which is new or alarming, it’s difficult for a physician to know without being told.” Eat This, Not That! Health asked the experts what signs of cancer you should always be on the lookout for. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others.
1. Unusual Bleeding
“Vaginal bleeding or rectal bleeding are at times ignored by women,” says Soma Mandal, MD, a women’s health specialist at Summit Medical Group in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. “This can often signal a worrisome process such as uterine or colon cancer. These signs can often be scary and women may not want to admit that they need further testing.”
The Rx: “If there is bleeding coming from a place where there usually isn’t, it is best to have your physician aware,” says Graber. “I recommend yearly checks and establishing a relationship with your internist and GYN,” says Mandal. “Make sure to make all your age-appropriate screening completed and give your doctor a thorough family history.”
“If you feel generalized fatigue, no matter how much sleep, rest or caffeine you have, it could be a sign of cancer,” says Dr. Jill Stocker, DO, a physician in West Hollywood, California. You may feel a loss of motivation and find yourself napping multiple times a day.
The Rx: Schedule routine medical exams with your general practitioner, and ensure you have screening tests according to current medical guidelines, including pap smear, mammogram, colonoscopy and bone density tests.
Bloating, pain or pressure from the pubic bone to below the ribcage that lasts more than two weeks are warning signs of ovarian cancer, says Shieva Ghofrany, MD, an OB-GYN in Stamford, Connecticut.
“Unintentional weight gain and a change in your bowel habits can be subtle signs of ovarian cancer,” says Kameelah Phillips, MD, a OB-GYN in New York City. “Signs of ovarian cancer can be very vague. Women can overlook and dismiss a change in bowel habits and weight gain very easily by attributing them to menopause, aging or diet.”
The Rx: “Regardless of your family history, if these symptoms persist for a few weeks, see your doctor,” says Phillips.
5.Unexpected Weight Loss
“In the eternal quest to lose weight, this symptom may be viewed as a blessing rather than a potential warning sign,” says Peterson Pierre, MD, a dermatologist in Thousand Oaks, California. “But this can be a problem, especially if accompanied by loss of appetite or changes in bowel habits. A number of cancers can present this way, including cancers of the esophagus, liver, colon and pancreas, as well as leukemia or lymphoma.”
The Rx: “It’s important to report these changes to your doctor as soon as possible to maximize your quality of life, treatment options and survival,” says Pierre.
Any changes in a mole or freckle, or the appearance of new moles, could be a sign of skin cancer. “Performing self exams regularly and reporting changes to your board-certified dermatologist could lead to early detection and save your life,” says Pierre.
The Rx: “To help with self exams, remember the acronym ABCDE when you’re assessing changes,” says Pierre. “A stands for asymmetry; B is for border changes; C is for color changes; D is for diameter changes, increase in size; and E is for elevation, vertical growth or evolution, a growth that has changed over time.” If you observe any of those, schedule a doctor’s visit ASAP.
7.Skin Changes in Hard-To-See Areas
“How many women (and men) do a skin check on their back, top of their head, or behind their ears or feet?” says Alain Michon, MD, medical director at Ottawa Skin Clinic in Ontario, Canada. “Those areas are frequently missed and are also at risk for skin cancer. Vertical dark streaking of the nail, is also another sign that is often missed. It can be a sign of subungual melanoma, a cancer of the nail bed. ”
The Rx: “Make sure to annually check your entire body for new or abnormal changes or skin lesions,” says Michon. “If they arise, consult with your general practitioner for a medical assessment and skin biopsy if deemed necessary.”
8.A Lingering Pimple
“Skin cancers on the head and neck can sometimes look like a blemish or pimple,” says Jeffrey Fromowitz, MD, a dermatologist in Boca Raton, Florida.
The Rx: “Always keep an eye out for new growths,” says Fromowitz. “If something is new or changing and persists beyond two weeks, call your dermatologist and have it checked out.”
“Hoarseness, also known as dysphonia, can be a sign of vocal cord cancer,” says Inna Husain, MD, section head of laryngology at Rush University Medical Center. “Often the dysphonia is attributed to laryngitis or voice use, but it could be the first sign of cancer.”
The Rx: “The American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery recommends having the vocal cords evaluated with laryngoscopy after four weeks of persistent hoarseness,” says Husain. “See an otolaryngologist, or more specifically a laryngologist, to evaluate the vocal cords. When vocal cord cancer is caught early, it has a very high rate of cure.”