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The Top 5 Signs of Cancer Everyone Should Know

Knowledge is power when it comes to fighting cancer.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the US, according to the CDC. "If you are diagnosed early and follow through with the proper treatments, the prognosis is actually very good," says Luona Sun, MD, a breast surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and assistant professor of surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. "I tell my patients, don't be scared of the diagnosis itself, but fully recognize the facts and proactively participate in your treatments." Here are five signs of cancer everyone should know. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Unexplained Lumps

Breast cancer self check

Unexplained lumps in the breast could be a sign of breast cancer. "Breast self-awareness is an important part of early detection for breast cancer," says Stacy Ugras, MD. "We are having some really good outcomes, even with disease that initially seems very aggressive. If a lump is detected during a self-exam, be sure to seek care because there's always something we can do to treat it.''


Bleeding After Menopause

Woman with prostate problem in front of toilet bowl. Lady with hands holding her crotch, People wants to pee - urinary incontinence concept

Unexpected bleeding after menopause could be a sign of cervical cancer. "Whether you have a spot of blood or heavy bleeding, that's often abnormal and can be a sign of uterine or cervical cancer," says Eloise Chapman-Davis, MD. "Some people will say, 'I stopped my period and then it came back.' But there's no such thing. After menopause people may see a drop of blood when they wipe and sometimes that leads to a late diagnosis because they thought it was associated with, say, a urinary tract infection or hemorrhoids, and they ignore it. The only way to know is to investigate exactly where that blood is coming from."


Back Pain

Side view of a frowned young man suffering from pain in loin while sitting on white bedding

Back pain could be a sign of pancreatic cancer, doctors warn. "Back pain, particularly back pain that wakes someone up at night, is a classic symptom," says Allyson Ocean, MD. "Other common symptoms are weight loss, abdominal pain, and jaundice (the yellowing of the eyes and skin), which results when the tumor blocks the bile ducts."


Bloating and Abdominal Pain

mature woman experiencing stomach pain from fatty liver disease

Unexplained bloating and pain could be a sign of ovarian cancer. "Early symptoms are easy to ignore and may include bloating, abdominal pain, feeling full quickly, and frequent urination," says David Fishman, MD. "Other symptoms include fatigue, irregular vaginal bleeding, unexplained weight gain or weight loss, constipation, and back pain. If you experience any of these symptoms for two weeks and they are not normal for you, consult a physician and, if appropriate, ask for additional testing to see if your ovaries have abnormalities. The signs may be non-cancer related issues but it's good to have them evaluated by a doctor."



Gastroesophageal reflux disease,Woman having or symptomatic reflux acids

Chronic heartburn could be a sign of esophageal cancer. "Everyone can get occasional heartburn. But a significant change in reflux symptoms may be a cause for concern," says gastroenterologist Felice Schnoll-Sussman, MD. "If you're getting reflux symptoms much more regularly than in the past, if symptoms are becoming much worse, or they're not controlled with, let's say, just the over-the-counter medications such as proton pump inhibitors (e.g., omeprazole — brand names Prilosec or Zegerid) and H2 blockers (ranitidine — or brand name Zantac), or if you're starting to have difficulty, pain, or food caught when swallowing, you should visit a physician to get evaluated."

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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