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How to Recognize and Deal With Cancer Symptoms You May Not Know

Updated on November 21, 2012

Cancer in the Late 20th Century

In the 1950s and 1960s, cancer was akin to a four-letter profanity in its use and in the emotional impact of its use. It was a dirty word that inspired fear, superstition, and prejudice aganst patients that suffered from it.

Many in the general population of the US and elsewhere in the world were terrifed of the imminent death sentence that cancer represented at that time post- WWII. TV soap operas were full of cancer related storylines, particularly breast cancer. Patients that heard the diagosis of cancer sometimes committed suicide. Later in 20th century history, some patients opted for assisted suicide, either when no further treatment could be provided or even preemptively before treatments could be administered.

Even in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, potential employers were still permitted to take a health history on job candidates, including relatives in the parents' and grandparents' generations. This history was used in order to determine the long-term insurance load the company would likely incur if they chose to hire the candidate. This method has been shown to be somewhat of a witch hunt and is no longer permitted; no health or family questions are permitted at all in job interviews in the 21st century.

However, on the survey required of job applicants previously, all illnesses, accidents, and conditions, along with the mere symptoms cancer presented in those generations, even if cancer was not diagnosed, were required. At the age of 18 in my first job hunt, I answered truthfully that a great aunt had received the diganosis of symptoms cancer can present in "possible cancer-like cells" in the cervix. I was turned down for the job and told the reason - cancer was too expensive to treat and I was at risk. I never answered that question again during job hunting activities.

Cancer research, prevention, treatment, and cure have progressed significantly with increasingly positive results in the 21st century. Along with this success, we have accumulated the knowledge of additional signs and symptoms cancer can express. Although fear can still accompanies the receipt of the diagnosis of cancer, the patient, family and frineds, are better equipped to handle the impact.

The last 20-30 years of research has shown that fear itself can weaken the immune system and thus allow cancer as well as other maladies to worsen, but positive attitiude and support from others can help to deter cancer's progress and increase health overall.

Prevention is a key to beating cancer as a disease and attending to the following list of symptoms cancer can present can aide that cause.

Hope on the Horizon

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Lesser Known Symptoms Cancer Presents

  • In the 1940s, the wife of author C.S. Lewis had an experience a a feeling of "not rightness"in one leg. It was ignored and she fell hard one day, after which she received the diagnosis of bone cancer that was fatal. It is best for individuals to learn about and have body awareness and to alert health professional about changes or a "not rightness."
  • Certain food cravings.This is not a widespread phenomenon, but I have witnessed individuals experience persistent cravings for high-acid foods and later receive a diagnosis of stomach cancer. These foods were strawberries, tomatoes, and others.
  • Fatigue. This can be a symptom of several illnesses and conditions. Connected with cancer, it often occurs later in the progress of the disease, but may occur early on as a first symptom cancer expresses.
  • Changes in Body Odor. I have witnessed that occasionally, a few physicians can smell something amiss about an individual early-on that may be connected to pre-cancerous or cancerous conditions, or something else. Odors later in disease progression are more common.
  • Constant Irritation. Cancer can result from a constant irritation to the skin or mucous membranes, which begins as a reddened or otherwise discolored area. Individuals should regularly examine their skin and not constant skin irritations in their surroundings. Tobacco and alcohol can irritate the mouth and throat, leading to mouth cancer. Ill-fitting dentures can result in mouth cancers. Chronic bladder infection can lead to granulomas (e.g., hardened tissue bits) in the bladder that produce constant irritation that can lead to cancer.
  • Radiation Exposure Symptoms. Low-level radiation exposure can result in cancer. Low-level radiation symptoms include absence of menstruation, reduced fertility, cataracts, and blood changes. Nausea and vomiting may be involved and can also indicate some cases of brain cancers.

It is best to be body aware and to recognize any changes that are unusual for yourself. Regularly examine your own skin, breast area, and genital area; and seek regular health checkups. Be alert, but not alarmist. For example, perform the self examinations and eat healthy foods, exercise, and sleep enough. Avoid stresses and learn coping skills. Read about cancer and health in general to stay informed.

Report anything unusual you find that is not included in the list above or the lists below, especially if the condition persists and does not respond to an OTC (over-the-counter) Medication. Call your local hospital Health Hotline or Nurses Hotline and ask for help if you doctor is not readily available.

Better Known Symptoms Cancer Presents

While these symptoms and signs are red flags for cancer, they can also indicate less harmful or even harmless conditions.

It is best to consult a medical professional about these red flags to preempt any possibility of cancer's progressing. Just as it is smart to evacuate a whole town prior to landfall of a Level 3 Hurricane than to risk it becoming a Level 5 Annihilator, so it it smart to report red flags in the symptoms cancer and other conditions can manifest, before they become uncontrolled killers. Red Flags for Cancer include:

  • A cough that will not go away and that may be accompanied by blood. Some people diminish this as "smoker's cough" or otherwise do not seek help. This cough may be an infection or may be cancer of the head, neck, throat, or lungs. In addition, there is a huge sinus cavity that covers much of the top and back of the skull, so that could be involved in a number of ills and result in a cough. A cough that lasts longer than a few days is a problem.
  • Hoarseness of the voice. Have you seen film footage of Lucile Ball in later years in which she was so hoarse she could barely speak? This was throat cancer. Hoarseness of 3-4 weeks in length should be attended by a health care professional. If you are hoarse but have no respiratory infection or throat strain, this could also be a problem. Unexplained or overly long-term hoarseness is the first symptom cancer presents in throat cancer.
  • Headache and or Neck Pain. An unusual-feeling headache or one that does not respond to OTC medications can signal cancer or other conditions. It is best to seek a medical opinion.
  • Indigestion and/or swallowing problems. If indigestion or heartburn does not respond to OTC medications in a few days, a physician should be consulted. Elderly individuals may have difficult swallowing because of the effects of aging, but the difficulty might be a manifestation of cancer in people of any age.


  • Constipation or diarrhea that does not respond to OTC treatments.
  • Bloody stools - this could be cancer, hemorrhoids, or other conditions. It may even be form ingesting certain hot spices and eating delivery pizza made in pans washed with corrosive degreasers.
  • Oddly-colored stools. One patient presented with green stools and it was found that a particular spice had cause this. However, call your doctor if color changes occur to you.
  • Marked changes in stool shape, such as pencil-thin structure
  • Bloody urine - This could be cancer or another condition.
  • Changes in urination - more, less, slower.
  • Unexplained vaginal bleeding or discharge; post-menopaulsal bleeding.

WEIGHT LOSS - Unexpected, unexplained weight loss, sometimes accompanied by night sweating and fevers.


  • Itchingin the anal or genital regions that does not respond to OTC treatments and cleansing.
  • Discoloration or color changesin the skin, in the genital/anal area as well as elsewhere. This may be infection, pre-cancerous condition, cancer, or something else.
  • Change in shape and/or color of moles.Moles may also grow larger.
  • Non-healing or slow-healing skin sores.
  • Non-healing sores inside the mouth.
  • Spots of white or red on gums, tongue, tonsils.


  • Lumps in and around the breast, with or without discharges. (men and women both may incur this) - often there is no pain.
  • Lumps in the testicles, sometimes accompanied by swollen veins
  • Lumps anywhere else that persist.
  • Swollen glands that remain swollen after 3-4 weeks.

BACKACHE. This may be accompanied by pelvic pain, indigestion, and bloating. This may be a red flag for Ovarian Cancer, or something else.

UNEXPLAINED ANEMIA. Anemias (several types) are a reduction in red blood cells. Blood-loss caused anemia, through injury or menstruation should respond to treatment. Several cancers can cause anemia and bowel cancer can cause iron deficiency anemia.

Childhood Cancer Awareness

Mayo Clinic - How Skin Cancer Spreads

Mayo Clinic Results - Ginseng Success for Cancer-Related Fatigue

Experiences, Sypmtoms, and Comments

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    • profile image

      noah berkowitz 

      7 years ago

      Absolutely your right,

      thanks for informative article like this,

      thanks for sharing,

      come and join us

      fight against cancer

    • U Neek profile image

      U Neek 

      8 years ago from Georgia, USA

      I would like to add that a simple blood test, complete blood count or CBC was probably a life saver for my husband. He was diagnosed with leukemia while it was in the chronic stage because of an every six months testing schedule due to being on a medication to reduce cholesterol. I've also heard of dogs that can smell cancer in people! Thanks, Patty, for a great hub that will probably save lives.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thanks Gary!

    • qlcoach profile image

      Gary Eby 

      10 years ago from Cave Junction, Oregon

      Wow. This hub is incredible. Pretty scary stuff too. Thanks for making us aware of the warning signs and treatment resources. Please check out my new hub about Life Change. Sincerely: Gary Eby, author and therapist.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Found the research for cancer detection by smell --

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thank you, Jean's Corner - we need to be proactive and take action as well as be position. Never give up, never surrender!  

    • Jean's Corner profile image

      Jean's Corner 

      10 years ago from Harrisburg North Carolina

      Thank you for this very important hub. I myself am a cancer survivor and have been cancer free for 28 years, but the memory is always there. I can't agree with you more that we need to take seriously any unusual changes in our bodies. It may be nothing, but then again ............

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      The Old Firm - Thank you for telling me all about that. Your good humor and wit will take you far, as will your distance learning and thus-boosted brain power. You prove that there is hope and that living life itself is the best course of action, regardless. I like that stance very much.

      mureksoy - My father began smoking age 13. He was up in years when I was born. Before I was 10, he and my mother each smoked 5 packs a day with the doors and windows closed nearly all year, maintained that for years, and I always had a cold. He suffered fatigue that never left. later, doctors told him to quit, he did without any trouble and they opened him up, but found so much cancer around heart and lungs they sewed him back and he died. One does have to go to the doctor regularly in order to prevent such things. Amazingly, today I show no signs of ever having been around smoking. You are right that he may have had a better chance today. We can use the memories to help others, I think.

      Best regards,Everyone!

    • mureksoy profile image


      10 years ago from Florida USA

      Thanks for this useful information. My father died of colon cancer back in 87 when I was 17 and I've always had that in the back of my mind. It was so hopeless back then, but I think if it happened now he would have had a much better chance of survival. I think this page instills hope and we all need to remember that cancer isn't necessarily a death sentence!

    • The Old Firm profile image

      The Old Firm 

      10 years ago from Waikato/Bay Of Plenty, New Zealand

      Been there, done that and have the 10 inch vertical scar to prove it. A melancholy Irish surgeon chopped out a 7in across abdominal tumour and a couple of bits of intestine that were surplus to requirements at the end of last year, stapled me back together and here I am. Prognosis and follow up examinations are good. They think that they got the lot. No need for chemo' or radiation. No bag, and I feel the best that I have for years.

      A warning though. GP's have a hang up on prostate cancer for males over fifty. I had two examinations last year of the rubber glove variety, with the comment of "your prostate's OK, probably just a stomach infection." The second examination a couple of weeks before a colonoscopy showed my large bowel over 3/4 blocked with a very evil looking growth.

      I hasten to add that the same GP expedited my colonoscopy because of the other symptoms that I was experiencing. (It had been booked for months as "non-urgent") The op. followed about a month later. If it hadn't, I doubt if I'd have made Christmas.

      The point is: Cancer is not necessarily terminal. It may be, it may not. Once that you've had it you know that the weakness is there and that it may recur, no matter how effective the cure, but "may" and "will" are horses of quite different colours. Get on with life, don't hang about waiting to die, you're going to anyway sooner or later. I've recently enrolled in a three year "distant learning" course with a local technical institute, to help keep the little grey cells ticking over; and for those of you who may be confused: the surgeon was expat Irish, but the Area Hospital is in a nearby town.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Glad you have survived well thus far, sixtytorso! Blood tests for cancer markers is a wise move, as are all the others you're taking. I wish you and your wife many more anniversaries.

    • sixtyorso profile image

      Clive Fagan 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Having survived cancer, I know just how important this hub is. My dearly beloved watches me like a hawk and the slightest appearance of any symptom is immediate cause for alarm. I regularly have blood tests for cancer markers but this is not infallible as by the time antigens show up , you are fairly far down the road. Taking barleygreen and anti-oxidents and avoiding carogenic foods (like Barbecue) are other sensible precautions to take.

      Great Hub

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thanks for adding that Jerilee - and how about the flouroscopes in the shoe stores into the 1960s that kind-of x-rayed the feet...It was not an x-ray, but the bones surely showed.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 

      10 years ago from United States

      An important hub! Would add that those of us who were children in the 1950s have an additional risk factor -- being excessively exposed to radiation. It was common back then, to take an x-ray every time your child got a cold or the flu to check for pneumonia. The risks of doing this excessively, just weren't known.


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