14 Typical Signs and Symptoms of Cancer

Cancer is a serious disease that arises when some cell of our organism undergoes mutation, loses its natural characteristics and begins to multiply in a disorderly way, invading organs and blood vessels.

Signs and symptoms of cancer
Signs and symptoms of cancer

Cancer is a generic term that applies to over 100 different diseases. Each type of cancer has completely different causes, evolution, aggression, symptoms and treatments. Just as an analogy, we can say that two different cancers like leukemia and skin cancer have as many similarities as pneumonia and tetanus, both infectious diseases caused by bacteria.

So when patients go to the internet looking for information about "cancer symptoms" they will hardly find what they want. Each type of cancer has different symptoms. There is no characteristic cancer symptom that is common to all types. What most cancers usually manifest are nonspecific signs and symptoms such as weight loss, tiredness, body aches, etc., which can also occur in hundreds of other diseases.

In this article we will cite the 14 most common symptoms that people who are diagnosed with cancer usually have. Remember that the chance of a cure for any type of cancer is greater if it is detected early. If you have some of the signs and symptoms that will be described below, seek medical attention, do not wait for a spontaneous improvement over time. If it is a cancer, waiting can make you lose the ideal time for treatment. The recurring thought "I'll wait and see what happens" can turn into "I waited too long and missed the chance for a cure".

1. Skin lesions

The most common cancer in the world is skin cancer. Therefore, a skin lesion may be the sign or symptom that most commonly indicates the presence of a cancer.

We divided skin cancers into melanoma and non-melanoma, the first group being very aggressive and the last one being milder.

Melanoma usually presents with a dark spot on recently emerging skin, in places usually exposed to the sun, such as back, arms, legs and face. The lesion usually appears as a new asymmetrical "pint", with irregular borders and changes in color tone.

Non-melanoma skin cancer also appears on areas of the skin most exposed to the sun and usually presents as reddened lesions, often with elevations and scaling of the skin. An appearance of a small wound that does not heal is also common.

2. Nodule in the prostate

Prostate cancer is the most common male cancer, so changes in the prostate, especially in individuals over 50 years should always be taken seriously.

The most typical sign of prostate cancer is a lump in the prostate gland found during the rectal examination or through ultrasonography.

The prostate tumor if it is close to the urethra can cause symptoms such as weak urinary stream, difficulty to start urination and need to urinate frequently, always small volumes.

Some prostate tumors, however, grow far from the urethra and may cause no symptoms until well advanced stages of the disease. Therefore, prostate cancer screening with rectal examination, PSA examination, and ultrasonography are important in the early detection of the tumor.

3. Breast nodule

The most common cancer in women is breast cancer.

The first sign or symptom of breast cancer is usually the appearance of a palpable lump in one of the breasts. A malignant lump is usually hard, irregularly shaped, and well adhered to deep planes.

The presence of nodes in the armpit, changes in the nipple, bloody discharge and changes in the texture of the skin on the breast are also warning signs that may indicate breast cancer.

Self-examination of the breasts should be done monthly so that small abnormalities can be detected early. However, not all breast cancer is detectable on palpation; in fact only 10% are so, therefore, screening with mammography is essential.

4. Blood in stool

The fourth most common type of cancer is colon and rectum cancer.

The two most common symptoms of colorectal cancer are faeces bleeding and recent onset constipation. As many individuals suffer from chronic intestinal constipation, this signal does not help much as the patient does not notice much change in their usual pattern of bowel movement. The presence of anal bleeding, on the other hand, is a sign that is easier to notice.

It is important to note that there are several causes for stool bleeding besides bowel cancer. Hemorrhoids, for example, are common causes of anal bleeding.

In the case of colon cancer, when there is bleeding, the tumor is already well advanced. In the early stages the tumor may even bleed, but it does so in small amounts, not being noticeable to the naked eye. In these cases, the patient may present anemia with iron deficiency, due to small but steady losses of blood in the faeces. Fecal occult blood screening and colonoscopy help in diagnosis.

5. Blood coughing

Lung cancer is another extremely common tumor, only loosing in incidence for skin cancer when we consider men and women together. 90% of lung cancer cases occur in smokers.

Therefore, the appearance of some signs and symptoms in smokers should ignite a warning sign. About 70% of lung cancer patients have persistent cough. 50% have a bloody sputum cough.

It is important to note that several diseases, including tuberculosis and chronic bronchitis, the latter also caused by smoking, may also manifest with cough and bloody discharge.

The fact is that regardless of whether or not it is caused by lung cancer, the presence of cough with bloody sputum almost always indicates some potentially serious disease and immediate medical evaluation is required.

6. Vaginal bleeding

Vaginal bleeding outside the menstrual period, during menopause or after intercourse is one of the possible symptoms of cervical cancer. A change in menstrual pattern, with increased blood volume, is also a warning sign, especially in women over 45 years.

The majority of cases of cervical cancer are asymptomatic in the early stages, hence the importance of the preventive examination. When the symptoms described above appear, the tumor is usually at an advanced stage.

Again, it is worth mentioning that there are several other causes for vaginal bleeding, and medical evaluation is essential to differentiate them.

7. Thyroid nodule

A thyroid nodule is a very common finding, affecting up to 1/3 of the general population. The nodule is usually asymptomatic, but may be palpable in some cases. Having a thyroid nodule does not usually indicate a more serious disease, however, about 5% of cases are actually thyroid cancer.

The appearance of a lump during adulthood is relatively common and most often does not indicate the presence of a cancer. In children, the presence of a nodule is not so common and should be looked at more carefully. A thyroid nodule in a child has twice the chances of being cancer when compared to a nodule in an adult.

Therefore, any thyroid nodule should be evaluated by an endocrinologist so that the cancer hypothesis can be ruled out. The major risk factor for thyroid cancer is exposure to radiation during childhood/youth.

8. Unintentional weight loss

There are several mechanisms responsible for weight loss in cancer patients. Anorexia and weight loss are present in more than 50% of cancer patients at the time of diagnosis. Up to 35% of patients with no apparent cause have cancer.

Cancer usually causes loss of appetite, but the patient may lose weight and muscle mass without there being still a large reduction in their calorie intake. That is, the cancer patient slims even though they still maintain a good food intake. This weight loss occurs by the production of substances by the tumor tissue that leads to consumption of muscle mass and fat. In the more advanced stages the patient with cancer loses the appetite and the slimming becomes even more evident.

In addition to anorexia and direct action of substances produced by the tumor, there are also other factors associated with weight loss in cancer, including pain, abdominal distension, nausea, vomiting, infections, difficulty swallowing, early satiety, malabsorption of food or effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

When the patient already has weight loss, the cancer usually already causes some other type of symptom, which helps in its diagnosis. In these cases, the tumor is usually easily identifiable after a simple investigation by the doctors.

9. Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)

The difficulty to swallow is called dysphagia; is a common symptom of esophageal cancer.

Dysphagia is usually progressive. Initially the patient begins to notice that some more solid foods appear to be transiently impacted in the esophagus. Over time this impaction begins to bother more and the patient involuntarily starts giving preference to more pasty foods. In advanced stages, only liquids can be ingested.

In addition to the difficulty in swallowing solid foods, the patient also often experiences episodes of choking and burning sensation in the chest. The presence of gastroesophageal reflux is a risk factor for esophageal cancer.

Besides cancer there are other diseases that can cause dysphagia, among them: neurological lesions, gastroesophageal reflux, achalasia, scleroderma, among others.

10. Blood in the urine

The presence of blood in the urine, called hematuria, is a sign that there is some injury to the urinary tract, usually affecting the kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra.

Hematuria is often microscopic, only being identified through urinalysis. When the presence of blood in the urine is visible, we call it macroscopic hematuria. Bladder or kidney cancers usually cause visible hematuria, leaving the urine red.

Several diseases can cause blood in the urine, such as urinary tract infection, renal calculus, glomerulonephritis, etc. Cancer is not usually the first diagnostic hypothesis in most cases, but it should be considered when the patient also has the following characteristics:
  • Age greater than 40 years
  • Smoker
  • Large amount of blood in the urine
  • History of prolonged use of analgesics
  • History of radiation in the pelvic region
  • History of prolonged contact with ink

11. Increased lymph nodes

Lymph nodes (also known as lymph nodes), whether generalized or only in one region of the body, can also be a sign of cancer. The main cause of the appearance of palpable ganglia are infections. Some of them cause widespread enlargement of the ganglia, such as tuberculosis, syphilis, mononucleosis, HIV... Other infections cause localized enlargement, such as lymph nodes in the neck in cases of tonsillitis.

When there is no obvious infectious cause for lymph node enlargement, the source may be cancer. The neoplasm that causes lymph nodes most diffusely is lymphoma. Some cancers also cause localized lymph nodes, such as the axillary nodes in the case of breast cancer, or lymph nodes in the neck in the case of tumors of the face and head.

Lymph nodes in the elbow, armpit, or clavicle region are most associated with the presence of cancer and should be evaluated by a physician as soon as possible. Ganglia in the groin area are usually benign, usually caused by sexually transmitted diseases or wounds of epilation. However, cancers of the uterus, ovary, anus, or penis may cause lymph node enlargement in this region.

Lymph nodes of malignant origin are usually hard and well adhered to the deep planes of the skin. Lymph nodes of infectious origin have more elastic consistency and are painful. Fever may be present in both cases, but is usually high in infections and low in malignant neoplasms.

12. Hoarseness

The onset of hoarseness is a sign of vocal cord injury. It is common in people who abuse their voice or after pictures of laryngitis. Singers may develop nodules in vocal cords that cause voice alteration. Patients with severe gastroesophageal reflux also have a risk of developing hoarseness.

Cancer in the region of the larynx can affect the ropes and cause hoarseness. Cigarette smoking and alcohol are the two main risk factors for this cancer. The presence of garcing pain, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing and weight loss speaks strongly in favor of a tumor in the neck region, especially in long-term smokers.

13. Anemia

Anemia is a very common sign of cancer and can occur in any type of tumor. Tumor cells usually produce substances that act in the bone marrow, inhibiting the production of red blood cells, which leads to anemia.

Anemia can also be caused by blood loss, as in cases of bowel and stomach cancers. These tumors usually cause bleeding that can cause anemia due to lack of iron. There is not always any visible blood in the stool. Blood loss may be small but constant, causing the patient to become anemic without obvious origin.

14. Changes in the testicles

Testicular cancer is uncommon in the general population, but it is the most common malignancy in men between 15 and 35 years old, a group that does not usually present with malignant neoplasia.

The most common finding in testicular cancer is the presence of a mass in the scrotal pocket, which may or may not be painful, associated with the sensation of weight and a more hardened testicle.

The pain in the testicle is not one of the most common symptoms in cancer, and the presence of a palpable mass is a sign that deserves more concern.

Just as women do in self-examination of the breasts, every man should make a periodic evaluation of his scrotum, trying to palpate masses or changes in the consistency of his testicles. Testicular cancer currently has a high cure rate, up from 90% in the early stages. Therefore, any change should be immediately evaluated by urologist.

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