Instead of overlooking common symptoms, such as sore throat and unexplained pain, know that they could be more serious than you think. That’s the thought behind a new survey that identified how people perceive cancerous and non-cancerous symptoms.
“We think it’s an excellent way of raising awareness, not only of key ‘warning signs’ but of how people should also think about applying their knowledge of cancer symptoms to themselves,” said Dr. Katriina Whitaker, a senior research fellow from University College London, who conducted the survey through Cancer Research UK.
Whitaker’s team analyzed data from 1,729 adults in the UK that were over the age of 50 — the average was just over 64 years old. Participants were given a list of 17 symptoms and asked which ones they had experienced over a three-month span — and if they sought medical attention for them. In total, 10 of the symptoms were known symptoms that could indicate cancer.
More than half of the respondents had one of the symptoms in the three-month span before responding to the questionnaire. Participants rated only about a quarter of the symptoms as serious.
“The bottom line is that if people have symptoms that don’t clear up, they should go to their GP for advice,” Whitaker said.
What are the 10 symptoms that many people dismiss — but could actually be signs of cancer?
- Cough/hoarseness: Hoarseness, according to the Cancer Research UK website, can be a symptom of laryngeal cancer, but also can be indicative of lung and thyroid cancer, or lymphomas. This was reported by 20 percent of respondents. This can also be linked to non-cancer conditions, such as infection or psoriasis.
- Change in bowel habits: Of the participants, 18 percent reported this symptom. If your bowel habits have changed in timing, size, amount or any other way, it could be indicative of colon cancer.
- Change in bladder habits: This symptom is likely dismissed by women because we are no stranger to urinary tract infections. But, if you experience blood in your urine, experience urgency or pain, it is a good idea to get to the doctor.
- Unexplained pain: Of all the symptoms, this one the most general. According to Cancer Research UK, however, those with unexplained pain for more than four weeks should consult a doctor. Pain is an indication that something is wrong — it’s a smart idea to make sure that “something” is not cancer.
- A lump: A lump in the neck could indicate a head or neck cancer, or a lymphoma. Lumps in the breast could also be indicative of cancer — but they could be cysts, too. If you have a lump in your body, talk to a doctor. He or she may be able to rule out the lump being cancer, but it is a good idea to know for sure.
- Non-healing sore throat: During cold and flu season, you may be tempted to write off that scratchy sore throat, but the report says not to. It could point to laryngeal cancer or throat cancer.
- Unexplained weight loss: Shedding pounds may be welcome news, but if you’re dropping weight without drastically changing your diet or exercise regimen, it’s worth looking into. Losing weight doesn’t mean you have cancer, but it can signal that something is wrong with your body.
- Difficulty swallowing: It could be a sign of oesophageal cancer, or it could be another type of infection. Best to know what’s going on with confirmation from a physician.
- Bleeding: Blood in the urine can indicate kidney or bladder cancer. If you are bleeding after menopause or after sex, it might be a sign of a gynecological cancer, such as cervical cancer.
- Change in a mole’s appearance: Of the 7 percent of people in the study that experienced this symptom, about 47 percent contacted their doctors — while 53 percent did not. A mole or freckle that changes in appearance could indicate a type of cancer. It is pretty easy for doctors to rule out things like melanoma — but better to have it checked out, as many melanomas can be removed.
Those aren’t the only symptoms of cancer, so be on the lookout if something doesn’t feel right. (Did you know heartburn and depression could indicate cancer?)
This is interesting: Another study this year, from the UK, found that 88 percent of 3,649 respondents who visited doctors for symptoms wanted further investigation but The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines say people need to have symptoms that indicate a risk of 5 percent or higher before further testing.
it raises an interesting question: What if you get brave and go to the doctor only to be told that he or she won’t investigate it?
In that case, we have two words: Second opinion.