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Last updated Dec. 2, 2021
In an effort to stay safe from coronavirus, many of us have put off the annual screenings and check-ups where cancers are often caught. That's understandable. Still, early detection is one of the best weapons against the disease.
Screenings can detect a cancer before symptoms appear. You too can pick up on early warning signs by paying close attention to changes in your body. If you notice something new or different that lasts several weeks – and several weeks is key – reach out to your health care provider. Not every symptom that could be cancer is cancer. But here are 17 symptoms that may warrant a call to your doctor:
1. Abnormal periods or pelvic pain
Most women have the occasional irregular period or cramps. But persistent pain or changes in your cycle can be a sign of cervical, uterine or ovarian cancer.
2. Changes in bathroom habits
Significant changes in bodily functions can indicate colon, prostate or bladder cancer, among other cancers. Warning signs include persistent constipation or diarrhea; black or red blood in your stool; black, tarry stools; more frequent urination; and blood in your urine.
We all feel bloated now and then. But bloating for more than two weeks can be a sign of ovarian cancer, as well as various gastrointestinal cancers.
4. Breast changes
These include a new lump, dimpling, discoloring, changes around the nipple or unusual discharge that you didn't have before. Although most breast cancer occurs in women, men can develop it too.
5. Chronic coughing
A cough that persists for more than two weeks, especially a dry cough, can be a sign of lung cancer.
6. Chronic headache
A headache that lasts more than two weeks and doesn't respond to the usual medications can be caused by a brain tumor.
7. Difficulty swallowing
If you feel as though food is getting stuck in your throat or you have trouble swallowing for more than two weeks, this can be a sign of throat, lung or stomach cancer.
8. Excessive bruising
A bruise on the shin from bumping into the coffee table is normal. But suddenly getting a lot of bruises in unusual places that haven't been bumped can indicate various blood cancers.
9. Frequent fevers or infections
Spiking a fever over and over, or going from one infection to the next can indicate an immune system that's been rendered more susceptible by lymphoma or leukemia.
10. Oral changes
Persistent sores or lesions or painful areas in the mouth, especially in people who smoke or drink heavily, can indicate various oral cancers.
11. Skin changes
A shift in the appearance of a mole or birthmark should be assessed by a health care provider, either in person or through a video visit. To remember which changes are cause for concern, use this easy mnemonic, ABCDE.
Asymmetry: One half of the mole or mark doesn't look like the other.
Border: The edges are irregular or blurred.
Color: It’s varied or inconsistent, both black and brown.
Diameter: It's larger than the size of a pencil eraser.
Evolving: This refers to any mole that grows, bleeds or otherwise changes over time.
12. Pain that lasts
Persistent pain anywhere in your body that has no clear cause and doesn't respond to standard treatments should be evaluated.
13. Persistent fatigue
A sudden, lasting change in your energy level, no matter how much sleep you've been getting, can be a sign of leukemia or lymphoma.
14. Postmenopausal bleeding
There are a number of reasons for this, but if it persists, your doctor may want to check for cervical or uterine cancer.
15. Stomach pain or nausea
Unusual discomfort that lasts more than two weeks can be a warning sign of liver, pancreatic or various digestive system cancers.
16. Unexplained weight loss
Weight fluctuates. But the loss of pounds when you're not trying, or the loss of your appetite, can indicate many types of cancers, especially ones that have spread.
17. Unusual lumps
Any new lump or mass that doesn't go away should be evaluated. Lymph nodes often become swollen when you have a cold, but if the swelling persists after you’re well, you should contact your doctor.