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Early Warning Signs You Have Deadly Cancer, Say Experts

Cancer experts explain signs to watch out for.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Cancer can happen to anyone and while it's incredibly scary to hear a cancer diagnosis, it doesn't have to be a death sentence if detected early. With new advances in treatments and technology, more people are beating cancer. That said, it's important to pay attention to your body and recognize signs that could indicate cancer and talk with your doctor immediately. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with cancer experts who explained what symptoms to watch out for. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Unintentional Weight Loss

weight loss

Dr. Sandeep Anantha, MD, FACS, FICS, a surgical oncologist at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills (LIJ Forest Hills) in Queens, NY, part of Northwell Health in New York, shares, "Most cancer patients experience an unintentional weight loss and this could sometimes be a sign of cancer in certain patients."



Woman removing adhesive plaster from the wound after blood test injection

Dr. Anantha says, "Yellow discoloration of skin, eyes and mucous membranes associated with dark colored urine and pale colored stool is a manifestation of jaundice associated with pancreatic cancer."



Blonde woman coughing.

Dr. Mark Dylewski, Chief of Thoracic Surgery at Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida states, "The majority of people who present with lung cancer are in the advanced stages: Stage 3 and Stage 4. This is why the mortality rate for lung cancer is so high in the United States and around the world. Most of the time, symptoms don't occur until it's more advanced. Usually with Stage 1 disease, which is early stage, it's either asymptomatic or there may be mild symptoms like a cough. Patients rarely will cough up blood, but this is about the only symptom that can present itself. You have to understand that smokers cough all the time and so a cough in a smoker doesn't register as an abnormality. It may hide itself for many months – if not years – before the patient recognizes it as an abnormal symptom." 


Common Symptoms of Throat Cancer to Watch Out For

Woman sitting on the bed with pain in neck

Dr. Geoffrey Young, Chief of Head & Neck Cancer Surgery at Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida, regarding head and neck cancers says, "Voice changes (including hoarseness), difficulty or pain when swallowing, mass or lump in the neck, chronic sore throat or cough, difficulty breathing and unexplained weight loss. These are common symptoms of throat cancer. Throat cancer symptoms can vary and often seem similar to symptoms of other chronic diseases. It's important to see your physician if you have any of these symptoms, especially if any last longer than two weeks."

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Signs of Oral Cavity Cancer

Mature woman feeling strong pain, toothache.

According to Dr. Young, symptoms of oral cavity cancer include: "Mass or lump Inside the mouth or on the neck, difficulty swallowing, blood in saliva and pain in the ears. These can all be signs of oral cavity cancer. Oral cavity cancer, also known as mouth cancer, is a kind of head and neck cancer in which malignant (cancerous) cells form in the lips or mouth. Oral cavity cancer is the most common type of head and neck cancer, with more than 90 percent of oral cancers occurring in the cells that line the mouth, tongue and lips. Symptoms often can vary, so if you experience these symptoms, especially those that last longer than two weeks, it is important to see your doctor. Having these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have oral cavity cancer, but if you are diagnosed with the disease and it is detected early, it's often highly treatable." 

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How Cancer is More Treatable Today

Cancer patient visiting doctor for medical consultation

Dr. Dylewski says, "In the United States, lung cancer is the leading cancer killer. In the past, 60 to 70 percent of lung cancer patients weren't diagnosed until the cancer was advanced, at Stage Three and Stage Four. With the implementation of screenings, we are catching more patients in the earlier stages – Stage One and Stage Two – where surgery can have a bigger impact." 

Dr. Anantha explains, "Pancreatic cancer continues to be an aggressive cancer even in 2022. This aggressive cancer needs an aggressive treatment strategy consisting of a multimodality approach of surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. The advances in new chemotherapeutic agents which are more focused on pancreatic cancer and are well tolerated by patients, in addition to better surgical techniques and advanced care in taking care of patients with pancreatic cancer allows for a new hope."


How to Help Prevent Cancer

Doctor explaining lungs x-ray on computer screen to patient

According to Dr. Anantha, "One of the variants of pancreatic cancer can arise from cystic lesions of the pancreas which are termed as pancreatic cystic neoplasms. Although most of the cystic lesions are benign, there are a few of them that are precancerous and/or cancerous. These patients with pancreatic cystic neoplasms need to undergo an ongoing surveillance which requires a visit to the pancreatic surgeon and enroll in the cyst surveillance program with serial imaging sometimes followed by a biopsy. This surveillance program will allow for close monitoring of these cystic neoplasms and assists in early detection of precancerous and/or cancerous transformation, which translates to early diagnosis and treatment.Treating these pancreatic cystic neoplasms in a timely fashion can be a strategy to prevent pancreatic cancer in certain patients."

Dr. Dylewski adds, "Stop smoking. Smoking is responsible for about 80 percent of lung cancer cases. Lung cancer develops in smokers as a result of the 6,000 to 7,000 co-carcinogens and carcinogens that are released from the tobacco leaf. About 34 million American adults still smoke cigarettes, and smoking remains the single largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world."


Early Detection is Key

Woman Receiving Radiation Therapy Treatments for Breast Cancer

Dr. Dylewski says, "It is very easy to identify the person at risk for lung cancer: someone who has smoked or is actively smoking. The only way we as healthcare professionals are going to have a significant impact in improving survival for lung cancer in the short term is to identify them early and treat them early. If you catch 20% more patients in the early stages because of screening, you're going to impact their survival 20-30. Most Americans don't realize there is a low-dose CT scan that can detect lung cancer in its earliest stages, even before symptoms are apparent. Simply put, it can be a lifesaving test. While not all lung cancers occur in smokers, those who currently smoke and those who smoked in the past should ask their doctors about being screened. General guidelines recommend low-dose CT scans for those who: Have a 20-pack year history of smoking (this means a pack a day for 20 years, two packs a day for 10 years, etc.) and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years and are between the ages of 50 and 80 The low-dose CT scan allows us to get a picture of their lungs to determine if they have any suspicious abnormalities."  

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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