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5 Signs You Have a "Deadly Cancer," According to Physicians

Five signs of cancer doctors want you to know about.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Knowing the early signs of cancer—a leading cause of death in the US—is incredibly important for prompt treatment and better health outcomes. "Try to prevent cancer by getting your routine care, your routine immunizations and your proper screenings," says Joyce Chen, MD. "It's great that you are healthy, but preventive care/well visits are important because a lot of conditions, especially cancer, can be treated properly if we catch it early." Here are five signs of cancer you should be aware of. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.


Chronic Back Pain

woman dealing with chronic pain at home

Chronic back pain could be caused by tumors causing tissue, nerve, or bone damage. "When unexplained back pain persists for a couple weeks despite rest and/or self-care, it is typically recommended to visit a doctor for a medical evaluation," says Rob Dickerman, DO, PhD. "Severe back pain that interferes with daily activities, or any back pain that is accompanied by red flag symptoms such as nausea or weight loss, requires an immediate medical evaluation. For people who currently have or previously had cancer, any new back pain needs to be evaluated by a doctor immediately."


An Itchy, Oozing Mole

close-up of doctors hands checking mans moles

If a mole changes color or starts itching and bleeding, it could be a sign of skin cancer. "We think that some of that irritation — the itching, the bleeding — is actually the body starting to recognize [the cancer] and starting to attack it a little, making it irritated," says Elizabeth Buchbinder, M.D., an oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. "And so that's why you'll see some itching and bleeding and irritation near the actual mole."


Unexplained Headaches


Chronic, unexplained headaches could be the result of a brain tumor. "For most individuals, a brain tumor headache is localized to a specific area and is typically worse in the early morning or at night," says Moffitt Cancer Center. "They can be dull, pressure-like headaches that are made worse by coughing or sneezing. Over time, these headaches stop responding to over-the-counter medication."


Unexplained Lumps

Children neck lymph node inflammation (lymphadenitis) is disease of is an infection

Unexplained lumps or swelling anywhere on the body should never be ignored, doctors say. "Adult soft tissue sarcoma is a disease in which malignant cells form in the soft tissues of the body," says oncologist Dale Shepard, MD, PhD. "In the early stages, it rarely causes symptoms because the tumors often are located deep in the tissue." As the sarcomas grow larger they may feel like painful masses or bumps. "Tell your doctor about new lumps or other symptoms that cannot be explained or that don't go away in a few weeks," says orthopedic surgeon Nathan W. Mesko, MD.



Senior woman checking her blood glucose level.

A sudden, unexpected diabetes diagnosis could be a sign of pancreatic cancer, experts say. "One of the symptoms I should bring up because it should prompt people if they develop diabetes suddenly in an older age, you should look at their pancreas because that can be one of the hallmarks," says Matthew Walsh, MD. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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