10 Cancer Symptoms Most People Ignore

Before you disregard your persistent cough as just another sign of a flu season, you might want to ask your doctor to give it a second check.

According to a new study by Cancer Research U.K., more than half of adults have experienced alarming pain that could mean cancer – yet just 2% of them believed cancer could be a possible cause of their pain!

Researchers sent inquiry forms to nearly 5,000 U.K. residents registered with general practitioners. In other words, males and females who have and visit a primary care doctor. Just shy of 1,800 people completed the form and 5 were eliminated because they indicated they had already been diagnosed with cancer.

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They asked participants whether, in the last 3 months, they had experienced a host of different symptoms ranging from persistent coughing and unexplained weight loss to having low energy level. In case when they had experienced any of these symptoms, they were asked to write in what they thought caused it and whether it was serious.

We aren’t sure why, but it seems there is a mismatch between what people know in practice and whether they apply the knowledge to themselves,” says study co-author Katrina Whitaker, Ph.D., senior research fellow at University College London. “So while awareness of many of these signs and symptoms is quite high, very few people mention cancer as a possible cause when it’s them who are experiencing the symptom.”

Here, we take a look at the 10 symptoms researchers consider to be red flags. While they could be nothing ominous, the researchers say the point is to recognize that they could also be cancer—and to ask your doctor to check your symptoms out.

1. Persistent cough or hoarseness
While occasional cough here and there is nothing to be worried about, a consistent cacophony or a cough accompanied by blood is definitely cause for concern. “Most coughs are not cancer,” says Therese Bartholomew Bevers, M.D., professor of clinical cancer prevention and the medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. “But certainly a persistent cough needs to be evaluated to see if it could be lung cancer.” Your physician should recommend a chest X-ray or CT scan to rule out cancer as a possibility

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2. Persistent change in bowel habits

When your bowel movements aren’t as easy as they used to be, or your stool appears larger than normal or somewhat deformed,, this could be a sign of colon cancer, says Dr. Bevers. “It could be a sign that there is a mass impeding the transit of the stool from the bowel,” she says. “This is a symptom where a person should go to the doctor and schedule a colonoscopy to see if there indeed is a mass.”

3. Persistent change in bladder habits
“If there is blood in the urine, then this symptom could be indicative of bladder or kidney cancer, but more commonly this is a sign of a urinary tract infection,” says Dr. Bevers. Check for an infection first, and then pursue other treatment options. 

4. Persistent unexplained pain
“Most pain is not a sign of cancer, but persistent pain must be checked out,” says Dr. Bevers. “If you have persistent headaches, for example, you likely don’t have brain cancer—but it is still something that must be looked into. Persistent pain in the chest could be a sign of lung cancer. And pain in your abdomen could be ovarian cancer.”

5. Change in the appearance of a mole
“While not all moles are indicative of melanoma, spotting a new mark or one that has changed is something you should bring up with a dermatologist who can screen for skin cancer, “says Dr. Bevers.

6. A sore that does not heal
If you have a sore that’s hanging on past the three-week mark, you should bring it up with your doctor. “We would have expected our body to have healed itself by now,” says Dr. Bevers, “and you should absolutely get that checked out.” That kind of sore could be a sign of carcinoma.

7. Unexpected bleeding in women with monthly period
“Vaginal bleeding—outside of your normal cycle—could be an early sign of cervical cancer, while bleeding from the rectum could indicate colon cancer,” says Dr. Bevers.

8. Unexplained weight loss
“As adults, we try very hard to lose weight,” says Dr. Bevers. “But if weight is falling off of you without any effort on your part, then that is a big concern and can be indicative of a serious medical problem.” One of those problems could be malignancy or a tumor, she is assertive.

9. An unexplained lump
“Any time you have a lump that is new or a lump that is changing, that is something you should absolutely have looked at by your doctor,” says Dr. Bevers. While it could be a benign cyst (and probably it is), it could also be “a cancer that is in the subterranean tissue. A lump in the breast, of course, is a very common symptom of breast cancer.” See your physician to get more information on other symptoms.

10. Persistent difficulty in swallowing
Two types of cancers may be the reason for this difficulty, including neck and esophageal cancer. “People who see these symptoms will often start to modify their diets, eating softer foods without thinking there could be a more serious issue.”

The bottom line,” says Dr. Whitaker, “is that if people are experiencing any persistent symptoms, they should go to their doctor for professional advice.”