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Symptoms of cancer: 6 Signs you should go to the doctor

Kristin Chessman is a freelance writer, editor and mom from Southern California with a passion for travel, fashion, Disney, the beach, Italian food and all-things celebrity. Follow Kristin on Twitter @KristinChessman.

Cancer signs & symptoms

Although there’s no sure way to prevent cancer, you can help reduce your risk by adopting healthy habits and performing regular screening examinations. When cancer is found at an early stage, it can usually be more easily treated. Read on to discover cancer warning signs.

Senior woman with back pain

Early cancer detection can make all the difference when it comes to treatment. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS) Web site, early detection means a better chance of a cure, especially if the cancer can be removed with surgery. For example, take melanoma skin cancer. The percentage of people who live at least five years after diagnosis at this stage is nearly 100%. However, once melanoma has spread to other parts of the body, the survival rate drops below 20%.

That's why it's important to know some of the general signs and symptoms of cancer. Keep in mind that having any of these symptoms doesn't automatically mean you have cancer. May other ailments can cause similar symptoms, too. The ACS recommends seeing your doctor if any of these symptoms worsen or last for a lengthy period of time.

1Weight loss

According to the ACS, most people with cancer will lose weight at some point. This isn't just the occasional loss of water weight, either. We're talking about unexplained weight loss, which is when you lose weight for no apparent reason. Keep track of unexplained weight loss, as a loss of 10 pounds of more may be the first sign of cancer. This significant weight loss is often tied to cancers of the pancreas, esophagus, stomach or lung.

2Fever

Fever is a very common symptom for cancer patients. In fact, according to the ACS Web site, almost all patients with cancer will have fever at some time, especially if the cancer (or its treatment) affects the immune system. "This can make it harder for the body to fight infection," the site stated. However, fever typically happens after cancer has already spread from where it started.

3Fatigue

Most women feel exhausted after a long day of work, chauffeuring the kids and maintaining a household, but this kind of fatigue is different. Be cautious of extreme tiredness that doesn't ease up, no matter how much rest you get. This fatigue could be an important symptom as cancer grows. According to the ACS, fatigue can also be an early factor in cancers such as leukemia.

4Pain

We're all prone to the occasional headache or back pain, right? Sure, but it's important to pay attention to pains that you can't shake. The ACS Web site says pain can be an early symptom with bone cancers or testicular cancer. "Most often, pain due to cancer is a symptom of cancer that has already spread from where it started," the site stated. In particular, a prolonged headache can be a symptom of a brain tumor, while back pain can be a symptom of colon, rectum or ovary cancer.

5

Skin changes

Changes in your skin can actually signal more than just skin cancer. In fact, according to the ACS, some other cancers can cause symptoms ranging from darker looking skin to excessive hair growth. Also, be on the lookout for yellowish skin and eyes, reddened skin and itching.

Exper tips

Should you see a doctor? According to DuPree, when a change in the breast lasts through a full menstrual cycle (4-6 weeks), or if sudden skin changes are noticed, women should see their doctor for further evaluation.

6Lump or thickening in body partS

Think it's impossible to feel cancer? Think again. According to the ACS site, many cancers can actually be felt through the skin. "These cancers occur mostly in the breast testicle lymph nodes (glands) and the soft tissues of the body." As a rule of thumb, be sure to report a lump or thickening in the breast or any other body part to your doctor, especially if you just found it or it has grown in size.

In addition to a lump or thickening in the breast, breast cancer surgeon and expert Beth DuPree, MD, FACS, recommends looking out for these important signs:

  • A skin change (redness, warmth or thickening of the skin). DuPress says this is likely an infection, but inflammatory breast cancer must be ruled out.
  • A bloody or clear nipple discharge.

Exper tips

Take our quiz to find out if you have symptoms of breast cancer.

More on cancer detection

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