Different types of cancer display different cancer symptoms, but some warning signs are common among various kinds.
Worried about a strange, persistent pain in your abdomen, an unusual lump, or a feeling of utter exhaustion? Certain types of cancer have specific warning signs, while others may mimic common illnesses like the flu. These signs may all seem like minor, harmless ailments, but taken together they could point to cancer.
Cancer Symptoms: Warning Signs for Men
Many types of cancer, including prostate cancer, may not cause signs or symptoms in their early stages. If you’re at high risk for prostate cancer — for example, if you’re of African-American descent or have a family history of the disease — you should talk with your doctor about getting a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. Elevated PSA levels may indicate cancer. Other warning signs that something may be wrong include bone pain, leg swelling, and trouble urinating.
Men should pay attention if they have trouble passing urine or they have a weak urine stream, particularly when those changes are rapid in onset over a period of a few weeks. Though these changes could be indications of an enlarged prostate, and not prostate cancer, you don't know until you get it checked out.
Cancer Symptoms: Warning Signs for Women
Breast cancer is the most common cancer women face. Breast self-exams can spot unusual lumps, which should be taken very seriously. Any time you feel an abnormality, bump, or lump in the breast, you should see your doctor for a breast exam. A mammogram or other imaging test may also be needed to determine the cause.
Cancer Symptoms: Pain
The most common kind of symptom that leads people to a cancer diagnosis is pain — an abnormal, painful sensation. But it can be difficult to differentiate between cancer pain and a more routine pain because pain is common — something we feel often throughout our life.
Signs that your pain may be due to cancer:
It can't be attributed to something specific, like an injury or overexertion
It persists and does not improve
It is severe
It interferes with sleep
It is coupled with other minor symptoms
Cancer Symptoms: Fatigue and Weight Loss
Feeling unusually tired without being able to pinpoint a cause — you're getting enough sleep, sleeping well, and are not sick — is another warning sign that cancer may be invading your body. It feels somewhat like the fatigue associated with the flu, but without other flu symptoms.
As for weight loss, if you’re dieting and losing weight relatively slowly, like a pound or two a week, this is probably cause for celebration. But if weight loss happens very quickly or without much effort, it could be a warning sign.
Cancer Symptoms: Add It All Up
Individually, these symptoms may be difficult to notice and may not even be a cause for concern. But if you notice a few small warning signs — maybe unexpected weight loss, feeling run-down or fatigued, or experiencing some strange pain — they may indicate that it's best to get to a doctor for a screening. This is especially important, for people who already know they're at risk for certain cancers, whether it's because of family history, lifestyle choices, or age.
You don't need to be paranoid about every little illness, ache, or pain, but you do need to listen to your body. If you listen carefully enough, you may catch those early cancer symptoms before real damage is done.