Cancer is perhaps one of the most dreadful terms in a medical dictionary. We dread the ailment, but oddly, we often ignore its symptoms. A research published on January 26 in the British Journal of General Practice by the University College London, UK, reported that less than 60% of the people, who’d experienced symptoms that can be caused by cancer, had seen a doctor. The author of the study, Dr Katriina Whitaker, after surveying more than 1,700 people, said, “Some keep denying the existence of the symptoms even though they have an instinctive feeling that something is wrong (and fear a cancer diagnosis), while others lack confidence in their general practitioner, or just assume that the problem is due to ageing.”
Things are rather similar in India, too. Thanks to the media focus on breast cancer awareness, now enough is known about noticing and detecting lumps, even those that are not painful. But often, other common cancer signs still get missed. “These symptoms don’t necessarily mean it’s cancer, but they definitely warrant a thorough check-up, as very often, people delay seeking help just because they think they are harmless and can cause no damage,” says Dr Boman Dabar, medical oncologist, Wockhardt Hospital.
While cancer is dangerous, early detection is the key to beating the disease. Ahead of World Cancer Day (February 4), here’s a lowdown on signs you must not ignore or take lightly.
Unexplained weight loss/fatigue
A sudden weight loss could be indicative of some underlying malignancy. So, get checked. “Also, keep a look out for flu-like symptoms, like aches or fever, which don’t go away, as cancer hurts the immune system badly. Similarly, extreme tiredness that doesn’t get better with rest may be a symptom of several different cancer types,” says Dr Dabar. New onset of diabetes with weight loss in a patient above 50 years of age may be pointing towards an underlying pancreatic cancer: Ut doluptas
Changes in the size of skin moles
A type of cancer that gets missed quite often is skin cancer. “Lookout for any changes in the freckles, moles or age spots. For example, if you notice a mole getting darker, larger, or becoming raised, or if it bleeds, get it checked immediately,” says Dr Deepali Bhardwaj, consultant dermatologist, Skin And Hair Clinic. Darker looking skin, yellowish skin and eyes, reddened skin, itching, or excessive hair growth in unexpected body areas are some other kinds of skin changes that can be symptoms of cancer. “Due to climate change and green house effect, incidence of skin cancer in India has increased, which when caught in early stages, is completely curable,” says Dr Bhardwaj.
A sore throat that lasts for weeks
When swallowing is hard or painful, and persists for a few weeks and keeps getting worse, see a doctor instead of just trying out home remedies, as this could be a sign of throat or stomach cancer. American Cancer Society suggests that you get checked if you have sores in the mouth that don’t heal, white or red patches on the gums or tongue, and any swelling or numbness of the jaw as these could be signs of mouth cancer.
Chronic digestive problems
Blood in the stool usually gets people rushing to a doctor, but other, less bothersome symptoms like chronic constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion, excessive nausea or vomiting are usually not taken seriously. “Don’t make that mistake. Even a vague symptom, like bloating that’s consistent for months, and feeling of fullness despite a lighter meal are common signs of stomach cancer that unfortunately are often ignored for long durations,” says Dr Hardik Shah, gastroenterologist, Cumballa Hill Hospital and Heart Institute.
A cough lasting three weeks or more
“A cough that lasts more than three weeks and is not accompanied by other symptoms (that usually accompany cold or allergies) like a stuffy or running nose, which is not improving in spite of medications could be an early sign of lung cancer,” says Dr Sunil Budhlani, ENT surgeon, Currae Hospital. Similarly, unexplained hoarseness can be a sign of cancer of the voice box (larynx).
These symptoms don’t necessarily mean it’s cancer, but they definitely warrant a thorough check-up as, very often, people delay seeking help just because they think they are harmless and can cause no damage, says Dr Boman Dabar, medical oncologist.