When you develop symptoms of cancer, you need to be able to spot these symptoms and visit your doctor for further assessment and early diagnosis. This prompt response then allows you to get referred early and quickly for specific, specialist investigations and treatment. Here is a list of the key symptoms and signs of some of the most common and serious cancers.
Lung cancer is relatively common-and you’re much more at risk of developing it if you’re a smoker, particularly if you’ve been smoking for a long time. Lung cancer also gets more common the older you are.
Consider the possibility of lung cancer if you recognise one or more of the following symptoms and consult your oncologist:
- Cough: Always take a persistent cough (in other words, one that lasts for more than three weeks) seriously, particularly if you’re older, you smoke, or your cough gets worse or fails to respond to any treatment.
- Coughing up blood: Coughing up blood is an important symptom, particularly if you’re an ex-smoker or a current smoker over the age of 40. However, coughing up blood is often due to non-cancerous causes such as a chest infection.
- Hoarseness: Take any persistent hoarseness lasting for three weeks or more seriously, because it can sometimes be a symptom of lung cancer when a nerve that helps work your vocal cords is affected, or it may indicate a possible cancer of your vocal cords.
- Other chest symptoms: Sometimes, lung cancer may lead to persistent and otherwise unexplained chest pain or ongoing shortness of breath, as well as shoulder and arm pain. If you have an ongoing chest problem such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma and your symptoms change without an obvious explanation, see your oncologist for further assessment.
If you are under the age of 40 and have never smoked, the chances that you have lung cancer are really quite slim, even if you have a cough that persists for a couple of weeks or longer. Unless you have any other warning symptoms, in most cases waiting to see if your cough settles by itself is reasonable, particularly if it’s obviously due to the common cold.
Cancer of the Upper Gastrointestinal Tract
Cancer of the upper gastrointestinal tract (the upper abdomen, which includes your gullet or esophagus, stomach, liver and pancreas) is relatively common. Consider the possibility of cancer in your upper abdomen, and see your oncologist
, if you recognise any of the following symptoms and signs:
- Gastrointestinal tract problems: If you have persistent and unexplained upper abdominal pain associated with weight loss, indigestion, difficulty swallowing, black stools or ongoing vomiting without any obvious reason, these important symptoms can indicate an upper gastrointestinal tract cancer.
- Anaemia: If you’re persistently tired, feel short of breath on exertion and have been looking pale for a few weeks, potentially this problem can be due to iron deficiency anaemia caused by an upper or lower gastrointestinal cancer.
- Jaundice: If the whites of your eyes or your skin start to look yellow, this symptom can be due to various reasons and cancer is one of them.
You can sometimes feel the presence of breast cancer
. If you’re a woman, you need to become breast aware, which means that you know how your breasts normally feel. In this way, you can tell if something isn’t right. Visit your doctor for further assessment if you develop any of the following symptoms:
- Breast swelling: You notice a lump in your breast that persists after your next period, appears after you go through the menopause or gets bigger with time.
- Breast shape or size: You observe any transformation in the size or shape of one of your breasts.
- Nipples: You notice any change in the shape of your nipples, you get any strange release from your nipples (particularly if this contains blood) or you develop any skin changes on or around your nipples (or other breast areas) that don’t disappear by themselves and worry you.
Many men believe that they can’t develop breast cancer. They can though breast cancer in men is less common than in women. So if you have developed a new bump or other change in your breast tissue, go to see your doctor to get it checked out.