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I'm a Doctor and Here's the #1 Sign You Have Cancer

Many cancers can be treated if detected early. Here's signs to watch out for, according to experts. 

Cancer is a scary word that nobody wants to hear, but thanks to new developments in cancer treatments, it's not a death sentence in many cases. Patients are living longer with cancer and can have a good quality of life, especially if the cancer is detected early. Preventive measures like annual screenings, routine exercise and a healthy diet all make a difference. In addition, being on the lookout for certain signs can be a matter between life and death. Eat This, Not That! Health talked to experts who explained symptoms of cancer 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.


Colon Cancer Signs

stepping on scale

Dr. Anton Bilchik, MD, Ph.D., surgical oncologist, professor of surgery, chief of gastrointestinal research, and chief of medicine at Saint John's Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA explains, "There has been a rapid increase in young people under age 45 being diagnosed with colorectal cancer — more so than any other cancer. The reason for this is not clear but may be related to lifestyle, diet, family history, obesity and lack of exercise. It is therefore imperative to get screened or to see your physician if you have symptoms such as abdominal pain, rectal bleeding or unexplained weight loss. Recently The United States Preventative Task Force reduced the screening age for everyone from 50 to 45 because of the recent increase in the diagnosis of younger people with colorectal cancer. If the examination is normal it should be repeated every 5-10 years. If polyps are found an increase in frequency is recommended. The screening age for siblings of young people diagnosed with colon cancer is usually ten years before the age of diagnosis."

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Colon Cancer is Preventable

Gastrologist. Doctor's office. Doctor gastroenterologist with probe to perform gastroscopy and colonoscopy

Dr. Bilchik says, "Colon cancer is mostly preventable or can be cured if detected at an earlier stage. The removal of precancerous polyps prevents polyps from becoming cancerous and then spreading. Colorectal cancer is the 2nd leading cause of cancer related deaths in the US and this mostly occurs in people who do not follow screening guidelines. Colonoscopy is very safe and is usually performed with mild sedation. It typically takes 10-20 minutes to perform. There are few post procedure side effects. Some people experience bloating and discomfort but most are able to return to normal activity soon after the procedure. Preparation for a colonoscopy is what most people complain about since it involves cleansing the day before. If the colon is not adequately cleansed the colonoscopist may be unable to do the procedure and it may need to be repeated."

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Bone Pain

Woman lying in the bed and suffering from leg muscle cramps

Dr. Taylor Graber, an MD Anesthesiologist and owner of ASAP IVs says, "Bone pain in the middle of the night can additionally be a troubling sign. While it is very possible that bone pain can be the result of a previous injury, such as a long bone fracture requiring surgical correction, bone pain, especially nocturnal bone pain (which is bone pain in the middle of the night), can be a sign of something more serious, such as cancer. There are many cancers which are predisposed to metastasis to the bone, such as renal (kidney cancer), breast cancer, or lung cancer. When these cancers spread to the bone, they can multiply and grow, and as part of their angiogenesis (the process of secreting local growth factors to encourage blood vessels to grow into and feed the cancer) they can literally starve the surrounding healthy tissue of blood flow and nutrients such as oxygen and glucose. The side effect of this local growth can be pain or weakness of the bone, leading to 'pathologic' fractures, which means fractures in bones from traumatic forces which should not be strong enough to normally break a bone."

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Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding or Discharge

Young woman suffers, writhes in abdominal pain lying on couch in living room at home interior

Dr. John Diaz, chief of gynecologic oncology at Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida explains, "It is important to tell your doctor if you are bleeding between periods or after sex. Bleeding between your usual monthly cycle can be due to many different reasons, but it can be a symptom of gynecologic malignancies. If you are bleeding after menopause, it is not normal and you should be checked right away. If you have not yet gone through menopause but notice that your periods are heavier, last longer than normal for you, or if you're having unusual bleeding between periods, talk to your doctor. Along with bleeding, people can also experience unusual vaginal discharge as a symptom of many gynecologic problems." Dr. Diaz said the symptoms above could indicate, "uterine cancer, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, or vaginal cancer."

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Unexplained Weight Loss

woman disappointed after checking weight

Elisabeth McCauley King, R.N., executive director of genomics and precision medicine at City of Hope, a cancer research and treatment organization in Los Angeles states, "Although weight often fluctuates, significant, unintentional weight loss can be one of the first signs of cancer. There are several potential causes of cancer-induced weight loss. Cancer cells utilize more energy than healthy cells, which can lead to higher calorie expenditure. Cancer cells also increase inflammation, which can alter metabolism and decrease appetite. Some cancers can also cause a feeling of fullness by pushing on the stomach."

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Persistent Fatigue

Young woman falling asleep in bed with drink in hand

According to King, "Persistent fatigue or consistently feeling extremely tired can also be an early sign of cancer. Many cancers can cause anemia, either due to bleeding or because of a disruption in blood cell production. In addition, poor nutrition associated with weight loss can lead to fatigue."

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Unusual Bleeding

Women wear red skirt Use the hand to scratch the vagina.Genital itching caused by fungus in underwear.

"Blood in the stool should always be evaluated, as it can be an early sign of colon or rectal cancer," King states. "Uterine cancer frequently presents as post-menopausal bleeding, and it is often curable when caught early. Blood in the urine can be a sign of bladder, ureter or kidney cancer."

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New Lumps or Bumps

Swollen Lymph Nodes

King says, "Any new lump that doesn't go away should be evaluated. Lumps that are cancerous generally appear suddenly and are often painless. Lymph nodes may become swollen when there is an infection, but a swollen lymph node should be evaluated if it does not resolve. Breast changes are often cyclic but should always be assessed if a new mass is persistent. A lump in the testicle could be from an injury or a hernia, but it could also be a warning sign for cancer."

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Changes in Skin

woman worrying about her skin

"New moles or moles that have changed over time could be a sign of skin cancer," King revealed. "Other signs include having a sore or a scab that doesn't heal. Skin cancer tends to develop in areas that are exposed to the sun, such as the scalp, face, ears, neck, arms and hands." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

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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