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Surprising Cancer Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore

Eight signs of cancer to pay attention to, according to experts. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Over the last couple of years, many people have put off annual screenings and routine doctor visits in an effort to avoid getting COVID, which is understandable. But since early detection is the best tool in fighting cancer, getting recommended screenings and paying attention to changes with your body can be the difference between life and death. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who share eight signs of cancer to be aware of. As always, please consult your physician for medical advice. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Change in Bowel Habits

man prostate cancer, premature, ejaculation, fertility, bladder problem

With an increase in colorectal cancer in young adults, knowing the symptoms is vital. Dr. Brett Mollard, MD Board-Certified Radiologist says, "With colorectal cancer on the rise in younger adults, we need to pay closer attention to our bodies and identify possible warning signs when possible, especially when a symptom feels overly prolonged. And a change in bowel habits, particularly when bowel movements become thinner, is something we need to take seriously. This typically happens when you have a tumor growing along the wall of your colon, kind of like a circle. Our colon is essentially a long muscular tube that absorbs nutrients while it pushes stool from the beginning of the colon to the end. Colorectal tumors can grow around the colon like a ring. As the tumor gets thicker, the tube becomes more narrow and your stool gets pushed through a more narrow hole, resulting in thinner caliber stool. Think of it like forcing Play-Doh (stool) through different size holes (our colon as it narrows due to a growing tumor) – the smaller the hole, the smaller the Play-Doh will end up."


Vague Abdominal Pain

stomach pain

Dr. Mollard shares, "It's very easy for most of us to put off vague symptoms, such as abdominal pain, and just assume it'll 'get better soon' on its own and a lot of the time it does. However, if you find your symptoms persisting, it may be time to see your doctor to rule out fixable and more sinister causes. Abdominal and pelvic organs feel pain differently than what we're used to experiencing from a cut or broken bone, as the nerves supplying internal organs act a bit differently than those supplying our skin and muscles. Some organs are covered by a thin covering called a capsule and will feel pain when that capsule is stretched, such as from a tumor growing within the organ. Other tumors can cause symptoms by invading surrounding structures, which can also be a source of pain. Pancreatic adenocarcinoma, for example, arises from the pancreas and frequently grows outside of the pancreas and invades surrounding structures, including surrounding nerves, which can result in progressive vague abdominal pain. Colon and rectal cancer can also grow beyond the wall of the colon and invade nearby structures or even perforate, leading to inflammation (another source of pain)."


Changes to the Skin

Woman removing adhesive plaster from the wound after blood test injection

Sheila Busheri, Founder and CEO of Universal Diagnostic Laboratories (UDL), a cutting edge, full-service reference, and esoteric laboratory with a focus in women's and men's health testing states, "Changes to the skin are one of the most common signs of cancer. The mnemonic ABCDE is a simple tool to remember the most common characteristics of cancerous or precancerous moles and birthmarks. A stands for asymmetrical, in that one side of the mark does not match the other's shape, an irregularity for any birthmark or mole. B stands for border, as many cancerous moles have irregular or blurry borders. C is for color, as many cancerous moles are varied or inconsistent in color, like a mole that is both black and brown instead of one or the other. D stands for diameter – many cancerous marks are larger than a pencil eraser. E is for evolve, in that any mole that grows or changes over time, may be cancerous."


Unexpected Weight Loss

weight loss

Sean Marchese, MS, RN, a registered nurse at The Mesothelioma Center with a background in oncology clinical trials and over 15 years of direct patient care experience explains, "Sudden weight changes, especially weight loss, without diet or exercise, can mean that there has been a change in the body's metabolism or hormone levels. It's an early sign of cancer that indicates your body is using more nutrients and energy as cancer cells rapidly grow and divide. If you notice sudden changes in weight out of the ordinary, contact your doctor right away."


Fevers and Night Sweats

Woman Checking Her Temperature in Bed

Marchese says, "Some cancers cause systemic inflammation or hormonal changes that can cause fevers, hot flashes or night sweats. These symptoms may mimic a bacterial or viral infection but are especially concerning if they appear without other signs of cold or flu. However, cancer can also cause changes in white blood cell count, making infections more likely."


Loss of Appetite


"Changes in appetite could indicate the presence of cancer in the digestive tract or abdomen," Marchese states. "Some people may have difficulty swallowing food or feeling full sooner than usual after eating. Tumor cells can also produce hormones that may affect when or how often you get hungry."


Confusion or Trouble Focusing

Close up of mature woman look in distance thinking.

According to Marchese, "Having sudden difficulty orienting yourself to time or place, or acting out of the ordinary, could be a sign of cancer that has affected the thought process in the brain. Cancer may spread to the brain from other areas, or it can create increased fluid around the brain. Trouble focusing or behaving abnormally could indicate decreased oxygen in the brain, changes in blood sugar, organ failure or electrolyte imbalances, all of which may correlate with cancer."


Urinary Retention

Door knob on or off the bathroom

Marchese says, "Pain or bloating in the lower abdomen or groin could signify cancer in the urinary tract. Cancer can cause issues with bladder drainage, making it feel like you need to urinate frequently, even if you have a hard time going. It's important to let your doctor know right away if you have urinary issues. Tests such as ultrasound and CT can detect if there is cancer present in the urinary tract causing these symptoms."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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