Cancer is a leading cause of death in the US, but early detection can make a significant impact on health outcomes. ”It’s vital to stay informed, pay attention to changes in your body and report unusual symptoms to your doctor right away,” says Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center. Here are five subtle signs of cancer experts want you to be aware of. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
A mole that suddenly starts to itch, bleed, or ooze could be a sign of cancer. “We think that some of that irritation — the itching, the bleeding — is actually the body starting to recognize [the cancer] and starting to attack it a little, making it irritated,” says Elizabeth Buchbinder, M.D., an oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. “And so that’s why you’ll see some itching and bleeding and irritation near the actual mole.”
Unexplained swelling or lumps anywhere on the body should never be ignored, experts advise. “Tell your doctor about new lumps or other symptoms that cannot be explained or that don’t go away in a few weeks,” says orthopedic surgeon Nathan W. Mesko, MD.
Sudden, unexplained weight loss is one of the earliest and most commonly reported signs of cancer, doctors say. “In studies that examined the causes of unintentional weight loss, 5 to 37 percent of patients were eventually diagnosed with cancer,” says Dr. Richard Levine, medical director at Moffitt Cancer Center at International Plaza. “But it is not always indicative of cancer, and there are many other causes.”
“Does food get stuck in your throat? Do you have difficulty swallowing? This is called dysphagia,” says Anne Marie O’Broin Lennon, M.B.B.Ch., M.D., Ph.D. “It may or may not be a sign of cancer. If it gets worse over time, you should call your doctor. Maybe you notice a ‘full’ feeling even when you’re hardly eating. That also warrants a visit to your doctor.”
Unexplained changes in bowel movements could be a sign of cancer, doctors warn. “If anyone has any change in their bowel habits, if they have any bleeding—even if they think it’s a hemorrhoid, and it doesn’t go away—just get a colonoscopy,” says colorectal surgeon Vikram Reddy, MD, PhD.