Signs of Cancer in Women: Symptoms You Can't Ignore

Many women are diligent when it comes to their own health care.

See Your Doctor

Many women are diligent when it comes to their own health care. Still, it can be easy to ignore symptoms that may be indicative of cancer. If a new health problem arises, it's advisable to get it checked out by a doctor. The sooner a problem is identified, the sooner treatment can begin, and early treatment for cancer can be life-saving; many forms of cancer can be cured if they are found early.

The following slides discuss some of the symptoms that women should talk to their doctor aboutdiscuss with their doctor. Just because a woman has these symptoms does not mean she has cancer, but it is important to have a doctor's evaluation to rule it out.

Unexplained weight loss could be a symptom of a cancer.

No.1 - Unexplained Weight Loss

Unexplained weight loss could be a symptom of a cancer. Many women would be pleased to lose weight without trying, but when a woman loses weight without diet or exercise this should be checked out. Cancer cells often use much of the body's energy supply, which can cause weight loss. A doctor will run tests to rule out cancer and determine if the weight loss is caused by another condition such as an overactive thyroid.

Many women experience bloating as a normal part of their monthly cycle.

No. 2 - Bloating

Many women experience bloating as a normal part of their monthly cycle. But if bloating occurs every day and lasts for several weeks, consult your doctor. Signs of ovarian cancer include bloating and other digestive issues, abdominal or pelvic pain, feeling full quickly even if you have not eaten much, and urinary urgency. Your doctor can order a CT scan and perform blood tests to aid in diagnosis.

Women may choose to do regular breast self-exams and check for lumps, but there are other breast changes to look out for.

No 3. - Breast Changes

Women may choose to do regular breast self-exams and check for lumps, but there are other breast changes to look out for. Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer include redness and thickening of the skin on the breast. Many women have lumps that come and go during their cycle. A new lump that does not go away for about a month, but instead is slowly enlarging, needs to be checked out by a physician. Other breast changes might include:

  • a rash that persists for weeks
  • changes in the nipple
  • discharge when you are not breastfeeding

Tell your doctor about any breast changes you notice. Your doctor will examine your breasts and may order tests such as a mammogram, ultrasound, MRI, or biopsy.

If you normally have regular periods, bleeding in between periods is a cause for concern that needs to be checked.

No. 4 - Between-Period Bleeding or Other Unusual Bleeding

If you normally have regular periods, bleeding in between periods is a cause for concern that needs to be checked. So does bleeding after menopause. Spotting between periods is usually benign but can can be an early symptom of endometrial cancer

Women also tend to ignore bleeding from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which can be mistaken for menstrual bleeding. GI bleeding may be a sign of colorectal cancer.

Tell your doctor about either of these types of bleeding. Your doctor may order an ultrasound or biopsy to check for endometrial or colorectal cancers.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. Moles that are changing, irregular in shape or color, or asymmetrical are common signs of skin cancer.

No. 5 - Skin Changes

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. Moles that are changing, irregular in shape or color, or asymmetrical are common signs of skin cancer. But other skin changes can be signs too, including changes in skin pigmentation, bleeding, or excessive scaling. Because melanoma, a form of skin cancer, can be aggressive, don't wait more than a few weeks after noticing changes in a mole to see a doctor.

Difficulty swallowing may be a symptom of a gastrointestinal (GI) cancer, such as esophageal cancer.

No. 6 - Difficulty Swallowing

Difficulty swallowing may be a symptom of a gastrointestinal (GI) cancer, such as esophageal cancer. Tell your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor will perform a physical and will likely order tests such as a chest X-ray or endoscopy.

Blood in stool may be something benign such as a hemorrhoid, or it may be a sign of colon cancer.

No. 7 - Blood in the Wrong Place

See a doctor if you notice blood in any "wrong" place. Blood in stool may be something benign such as a hemorrhoid, or it may be a sign of colon cancer. In this case, your doctor may order a colonoscopy. Blood in the urine may be mistaken for menstrual blood, but it could be bladder or kidney cancer. Coughing up blood should also be mentioned to your doctor.

When depression is coupled with abdominal pain, it may be a symptom of pancreatic cancer.

No. 8 - Gnawing Abdominal Pain and Depression

When depression is coupled with abdominal pain, it may be a symptom of pancreatic cancer. The connection is not completely understood, but if you experience these symptoms tell your doctor to rule out possible cancer, and to get treatment for depression if needed.

When indigestion is not due to an identifiable cause such as a fatty meal or pregnancy, this may be a cause for concern.

No. 9 - Indigestion

When indigestion is not due to an identifiable cause such as a fatty meal or pregnancy, this may be a cause for concern. Unexplained and persistent indigestion may be an early sign of cancer of the esophagus, stomach, or throat.

White patches inside the mouth or white spots on the tongue may be signs of a precancerous condition called leukoplakia that can lead to oral cancer.

No. 10 - Mouth Changes

White patches inside the mouth or white spots on the tongue may be signs of a precancerous condition called leukoplakia that can lead to oral cancer. This condition is more common in smokers. Tell your doctor or dentist if you notice these patches.

Unexplained pain may be a sign of cancer.

No. 11 - Pain

Unexplained pain may be a sign of cancer. Most of the time it is not, but pain that persists and has no known cause should be checked by a doctor.

Enlarged lymph nodes or lumps in the lymph nodes under your armpit or in your neck may be a sign of possible cancer.

No. 12 - Changes in Lymph Nodes

Enlarged lymph nodes or lumps in the lymph nodes under your armpit or in your neck may be a sign of possible cancer. If the lump is increasing in size and has been present for over a month, see a doctor. It may be due to an infection, but it could be a sign of something else such as cancer.

Fever that is unexplained such as by a cold or flu could be a sign of cancer.

No. 13 - Fever

Fever that is unexplained such as by a cold or flu could be a sign of cancer. An early sign of some blood cancers such as leukemias and lymphomas is fever. Fever may also occur when a cancer has spread (metastasized) from the original site to other parts of the body.

Also alert your doctor if you notice yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice) or a change in the color of your stool.

If you have unexplained fever your doctor may order a chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI, or other tests.

Fatigue is a symptom of many illnesses and medical conditions, but it can also be a sign of some cancers such as leukemia or some colon or stomach cancers.

No. 14 - Fatigue

Fatigue is a symptom of many illnesses and medical conditions, but it can also be a sign of some cancers such as leukemia or some colon or stomach cancers. Tell your doctor if you experience unexplained fatigue.

If you do not have a cold, allergies, the flu, and you have a prolonged cough lasting more than three to four weeks, consult your doctor, especially if you smoke.

No. 15 - Persistent Cough

If you do not have a cold, allergies, the flu, and you have a prolonged cough lasting more than three to four weeks, consult your doctor, especially if you smoke. Your doctor will examine your throat, check your lung function, and possibly order X-rays.

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REFERENCES:

  • CDC "Cancer and Women." Apr. 26, 2021.
  • CDC: "What Are the Symptoms of Gynecological Cancers?" Aug. 7, 2019.
  • NCI: "Symptoms of Cancer." May 16, 2019.
  • American Cancer Society: "Cancer Facts for Women"
  • American Cancer Society: "Signs and Symptoms of Cancer"
  • Skin Cancer Foundation: "Skin Cancer Facts."
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