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Cancer symptoms that are commonly ignored

Quick look through signs and symptoms of cancer

Unexplained weight loss

Most of us would be elated to have easy weight loss without efforts. But loss of weight more than 4 kg in a month, without any attempt to do so, should be investigated. Unexplained weight loss can be indicative of cancer of colon or other digestive tract, or even spread to liver unless not proven, which could affect appetite and digestion. It could be due to other reasons like hyperthyroidism etc. But investigation is warranted.  

Hoarseness of voice, persistent cough, and difficulty in swallowing

Hoarseness and difficulty in swallowing can be associated with throat cancer or oesophageal cancer. It can be the first sign of lung cancer or thyroid cancer too. A persistent husky, rough voice with a feeling of fullness and something pressing in the throat can be an early marker of cancer and needs to be investigated. A cough along with common cold and flu is common; but, cough persistent for more than 3 weeks should not be overlooked. It can be indicative of throat or lung cancer especially in the case of smokers.

Indigestion, stomach upset, and chronic heartburn

Indigestion for no apparent reason may be a red flag. Bellyache sound normal; but, recurrent stomach upset and cramps may indicate colorectal cancer. The commonest sign of stomach cancer in an early stage is the pain in the upper or middle abdomen with gaseous distention or heartburn. Feeling of fullness and pain after eating small quantity, which is better by antacids, can be more than simple hyperacidity. Chronic acidity with unexplained abdominal pain calls for a visit to a doctor.  

Blood in the wrong place or excess bleeding

  • Blood in urine or stool should not be ignored. Blood in stool is not always piles. It can be due to colon cancer too. Kidney or bladder cancer should always be ruled out in such a scenario.
  • Women should be more careful with blood in stool or urine if they aren’t menstruating. It can be vaginal and indicative of uterine cancer or intestinal bleeding indicative of colorectal cancer. Bleeding in between the period and post-menopausal bleeding always demands further exploring and investigation for endometrial cancer. Even spotting in between the periods should not be ignored. Many women reporting heavy menstrual bleeding with unusually excessive pain hinted endometrial or uterine cancer.
  • Coughing of blood needs an investigation too.
  • Bleeding from a wrong place just once may not be indicative of anything serious. But, if it happens more than once, evaluation is surely needed.

Abnormal swelling and lumps

  • If an abnormal swelling or lump is seen in armpit, neck, and breast or at any other place, it is definitely something to worry about. Enlargement of lymph nodes can be due to infection; but, you should surely get it examined by a doctor. A doctor may order a biopsy if need be.
  • Lump indicative of testicular cancer is always painless; there can be a slight discomfort in the groin. Sometimes testis is swollen and enlarged without a lump.
  • Lump in the breast should invariably be evaluated.


  • Most of the aches and pains are not due to cancer, but the vague and unexplained pain sometimes can be a symptom of some cancers. Chronic pain in joints, aggravated by motion can be one of the symptoms of bone cancer.
  • Frequent pain in hips, upper thighs, or lower back can be one of the signs of prostate cancer. Heavy ache, lower abdominal pain, pulling sensation and generalized pain in the groin can be a complaint associated with testicular cancer.
  • Prolonged persistent unexplained pains should be checked out.

Mouth changes

Spots and patches on the tongue and inside the mouth demand for attention. Leukoplakia is a precancerous condition marked by white patches on inner side of the cheeks. It can advance to cancer. This is usually caused due to smoking, chewing tobacco, gutka, masheri etc and usually diagnosed at dental visit. Recurrent mouth ulcers called as aphthae are common due to deficiency of vitamin D. But recurrent non-healing ulcers in mouth should be taken seriously.  

Changes in the breast:

  • Most of the women know that any lump in the breast should be evaluated. But it is not just lumped in the breast, but it could be redness, puckering, thickening, dimpling of the skin or persistent rash on a breast that could point to breast cancer. Changes in nipple like inversion, flattened, turned sideways or abnormal discharge warrant for evaluation of breast. Itchy, scaly or rusty nipples are seen in inflammatory breast cancer. An ultrasound, MRI or even biopsy may be needed after consulting a doctor.
  • Men should also bring any lump, swelling, or skin or nipple problem, or any chest pain, to their doctor's attention. Men can get breast cancer!

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