What are the initial Signs and Symptoms of Cancer?
Symptoms of Cancer Metastasis
A -Normal cell division vs. B -Cancer cell division
What is a Cancer?
Cancer is a group of diseases resulting from abnormal cell division. Normally in our body the cells or the smallest functioning units of the body multiply in an organised manner keeping only the required number of new cells and removing the damaged or old cells by certain biological processes.
In cancer the cells do not multiply in this organised fashion resulting in an excessive and uncontrolled growth of cells which are sometimes capable of invading the surrounding tissues. Some of them may remain inside a capsule like structure and cause pressure on the surrounding tissues whereas some can invade the surrounding structures like the fingers of a crab. The first category of tumours is mostly benign and will not come back once it is removed. The second category is called cancerous tumours and they can invade the surrounding structures as well as spread to the distant parts of the body through blood or lymph. When it is spread to the distant parts of the body, it is called metastasis and the symptoms of cancer may show additional features of the body part involved.
What are Signs and Symptoms?
Symptoms of cancer are to be inquired from the person reporting the discomfort. In other words, a symptom is felt or experienced by the patient and is often measured as reported by the patient. Where as a sign is something which can be seen, felt or elicited by doctors and nurses. The doctor cannot reach at a conclusion only by looking at the symptoms that these are symptoms of cancer. For example breathing difficulty and fever may very well indicate pneumonia or could be the earliest symptoms of lungs cancer. So the doctor may advise a chest x-ray in the beginning and if there are signs indicative of cancer, a few more investigations may be advised to rule out or confirm a cancer.
Breast cancer - Symptoms and treatment
What are some of the Common Symptoms of Cancer?
We will discuss here some of the common symptoms of cancer. But don’t get panicky if you have any of these problems. As I discussed earlier, these symptoms may not always indicate a cancer. It could very well be due to some other illnesses.
Unexplained Weight Loss
This is one of the very important symptoms of cancer. Please note that the weight loss is unexplained or you cannot exactly figure out why you have lost weight recently. If you have lost around 5 kg of weight recently for no obvious reasons, please consult a doctor.
Weight loss as a symptom of cancer could be because of the tumour eating up most of the energy supplied to the body and utilised for its growth. There is also a possibility that the body’s immune system releases some chemicals in order to suppress the growth of tumour which in turn causes weight loss.
Unexplained weight loss is a common symptom in cancers of the pancreas, stomach, oesophagus and lung.
Symptoms of Leukemia
Fatigue or Extreme Tiredness
On a routine day any one of us feels tired by the end of the day. But a good shower, a nap or may be a good drink will refresh us. Fatigue as a symptom of cancer is different from the usual tiredness we feel. Here the tiredness is not relieved by rest or sleep. Patient describes fatigue as feeling worn out or exhausted. A person’s physical, emotional and cognitive domains can be affected by fatigue. People can become irritated, angry and short tempered and depressed because of fatigue. Blood loss and anaemia in some types of cancers may contribute to fatigue. Although fatigue is one of the important symptoms of cancer, it can be seen in other diseases as well.
A Sore that does not Heal
This is one of the important symptoms of cancer. If you have the habit of chewing tobacco and if you notice a sore inside the mouth, it should be checked by a doctor. Many forms of chewable tobacco are available everywhere in India and our youths are getting habituated to using chewable forms of tobacco. In this context, the knowledge about these warning signs becomes important.
A non-healing sore on the skin, penis and vagina may also be an early sign of cancer and should be shown to a doctor.
White Patches on the Cheek or Tongue
This is called leukoplakia and is a precancerous condition. Leukoplakia is commonly seen in people who use chewable forms of tobacco and people who smoke and drink. It can also occur if the edges of your teeth are sharp and if it constantly irritates your cheek.
Unusual Bleeding or Discharge
Unusual bleeding or discharge is another important sign of cancer. Bleeding can be from vagina in case of cancer of cervix or cancer of endometrium. Blood tinged sputum may indicate lung cancer although other diseases like tuberculosis and bronchiectasis can produce blood tinged sputum.
Blood in the stool may indicate colon cancer or rectal cancer. Blood in the urine may indicate a kidney cancer or bladder cancer although it can occur in other diseases like nephritis. Blood discharge from the nipple could be a sign of breast cancer.
"I Had" - Gynecologic Cancer Warning Signs Are Not the Same for Everyone
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Thickening or Lump
A thickening or lump is often felt by the patient while taking bath or accidentally. This is again an important cancer symptom. The lump will often be hard to touch, immovable and painless. It should be shown to the doctor as early as possible.
Lump occurs most commonly in the breast, testicles, lymph nodes and soft tissues of the body. The numbers of breast cancer cases are on the rise in India. It stands next to cervical cancer in incidence. All lumps felt on the breast may not be a cancer. As we discussed in the beginning, some of them can be due to benign breast diseases. But it is important to get it checked by a doctor as soon as you notice it.
Difficulty in Swallowing
A swallowing difficulty may indicate a cancer of the throat, oesophagus (food pipe), stomach or pharynx. If you notice a progressive swallowing difficulty and weight loss, consult the doctor as early as possible.
Recent Change in Wart or Mole.
A wart is a rough and raised skin lesion usually seen on the hands. It is caused by a virus and goes by itself or can be treated with cryotherapy (using liquid nitrogen spray). If you notice a sudden growth or change in the colour or shape of wart it should be immediately notified to the doctor.
A mole is also usually a harmless lesion, slightly raised and darker than the surrounding skin. A sudden change in the appearance of mole also could be a sign of cancer. But if these cancers are detected and treatedearly, the result is good.
A Nagging Cough
A nagging cough that does not go away may very well indicate diseases like bronchitis or tuberculosis. But there is also a high possibility of lung cancer. Lung cancers are of different types. They are usually detected only at an advanced stage, after the tumour grows to a considerable level and sometimes even after invading the distant organs. So if you notice fever and continuous cough, please consult a doctor immediately.
Fever is very common with cancer patients. Fever is a late consequence of less immunity due to cancer or its treatment. It can also be an early sign of blood cancers like leukaemia or lymphoma.
Pain is most often a late symptom of cancer. A cancerous lump in the breast is painless in the beginning. Pain typically occurs once the cancer has spread to the other organs of the body. But it can be an early symptom in cancers of the bone or testicle. Back pain is common in cancer of the colon, rectum or ovary and headache could be a symptom of brain cancer.
What to do if you find these Signs and Symptoms?
The treatment for cancer is advanced and some of the cancers are now treatable. The results of treatment are very good if it is treated at an early stage. There comes the importance of awareness about these signs and symptoms of cancer.
For example cancer of the breast, even though on the increase, is a treatable cancer most often and the prognosis is good if treated early. In India, breast cancer patients reach the treatment facility at an advanced stage probably because they are shy or because the health of the women takes a back seat in many households.
As you know, the symptoms listed above are not always symptoms of cancer. This article attempts to make you aware that these signs could possibly be the signs and symptoms of cancer. If you see any of your friends or near ones having one of the abovementioned signs and symptoms let a doctor know it.
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