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Cancer Symptoms (cont.)

Cancer Signs and Symptoms

Cancer gives most people no symptoms or signs that exclusively indicate the disease. Unfortunately, every complaint or symptom of cancer can be explained by a harmless condition as well. If certain symptoms occur, however, a doctor should be seen for further evaluation. Some common symptoms that may occur with cancer are as follows:

  • Persistent cough or blood-tinged saliva
    • These symptoms usually represent simple infections such as bronchitis or sinusitis.
    • They could be symptoms of cancer of the lung, head, and neck. Anyone with a cough that lasts more than a month or with blood in the mucus that is coughed up should see a doctor.
  • A change in bowel habits
    • Most changes in bowel habits are related to your diet and fluid intake.
    • Doctors sometimes see pencil-thin stools with colon cancer.
    • Occasionally, cancer exhibits continuous diarrhea.
    • Some people with cancer feel as if they need to have a bowel movement and still feel that way after they have had a bowel movement. If any of these abnormal bowel complaints last more than a few days, they require evaluation.
  • Blood in the stool
    • A doctor always should investigate blood in your stool.
    • Hemorrhoids frequently cause rectal bleeding, but because hemorrhoids are so common, they may exist with cancer. Therefore, even when you have hemorrhoids, you should have a doctor examine your entire intestinal tract when you have blood in your bowel movements.
    • With some individuals, X-ray studies may be enough to clarify a diagnosis.
    • Colonoscopy is usually recommended.
    • Sometimes when the source of bleeding is entirely clear (for example, recurrent ulcers), these studies may not be needed.
  • Unexplained anemia
    • Anemia is a condition in which people have fewer than the expected number of red blood cells in their blood. Anemia should be investigated.
    • There are many kinds of anemia, but blood loss almost always causes iron deficiency anemia. Unless there is an obvious source of ongoing blood loss, this anemia needs to be explained.
    • Many cancers can cause anemia, but bowel cancers most commonly cause iron deficiency anemia. Evaluation should include endoscopy or X-ray studies of your upper and lower intestinal tracts.
  • Breast lump or breast discharge
    • Most breast lumps are noncancerous tumors such as fibroadenomas or cysts. But all breast lumps need to be thoroughly investigated.
    • A negative mammogram result is not usually sufficient to evaluate a breast lump. Your doctor needs to determine the appropriate X-ray study which might include an MRI or an ultrasound of the breast.
    • Generally, diagnosis requires a needle aspiration or biopsy (a small tissue sample).
    • Discharge from a breast is common, but some forms of discharge may be signs of cancer. If discharge is bloody or from only one nipple, further evaluation is recommended.
    • Women are advised to conduct monthly breast self-examinations.
  • Lumps in the testicles
    • Most men (90%) with cancer of the testicle have a painless or uncomfortable lump on a testicle.
    • Some men have an enlarged testicle.
    • Other conditions, such as infections and swollen veins, can also cause changes in your testicles, but any lump should be evaluated.
    • Men are advised to conduct monthly testicular self-examinations.
  • A change in urination
    • Urinary symptoms can include frequent urination, small amounts of urine, and slow urine flow.
    • These symptoms can be caused by urinary infections (usually in women) or, in men, by an enlarged prostate gland.
      • Most men will suffer from harmless prostate enlargement as they age and will often have these urinary symptoms.
      • These symptoms may also signal prostate cancer.
      • Men experiencing urinary symptoms need a bit of investigation, probably including a specific blood test called a PSA and a digital rectal exam.
    • If cancer is suspected, a biopsy of the prostate may be needed.
    • Cancer of the bladder and pelvic tumors can also cause irritation of the bladder and urinary frequency.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/6/2014

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