Cancer gives most people no symptoms or signs that exclusively indicate the disease. Unfortunately, every complaint or symptom of cancer can be explained by a harmless condition as well. If certain symptoms occur or persist, however, a doctor should be seen for further evaluation. Some common symptoms that may occur with cancer are as follows:

  1. Persistent cough or blood-tinged saliva
  • These symptoms usually represent simple infections such as

bronchitis or sinusitis.

  • They could be symptoms of cancer of the lung, head, and neck.

Anyone with a nagging cough that lasts more than a month or with blood in the mucus that is coughed up should see a doctor

2. A change in bowel habits

  • Most changes in bowel habits are related to your diet and fluid


  • Doctors sometimes see pencil-thin stools with colon cancer.
  • Occasionally, cancer exhibits continuous diarrhea.
  • Some people with cancer feel as if they need to have a bowel

movement and still feel that way after they have had a bowel

movement. If any of these abnormal bowel complaints last more

than a few days, they require evaluation.

  • A significant change in bowel habits that cannot be easily explained

by dietary changes needs to be evaluated.

3. Blood in the stool

  • Hemorrhoids frequently cause rectal bleeding, but because

hemorrhoids are so common, they may exist with cancer.

Therefore, even when you have hemorrhoids, you should have a

doctor examine your entire intestinal tract when you have blood in

your bowel movements.

  • With some individuals, X-ray studies may be enough to clarify a


  • Colonoscopy is usually recommended. Routine colonoscopy, even

without symptoms, is recommended once you are 50 years old.

  • Sometimes when the source of bleeding is entirely clear (for

example, recurrent ulcers), these studies may not be needed.

4. Unexplained anemia (low blood count)

  • Anemia is a condition in which people have fewer than the

expected number of red blood cells in their blood. Anemia should

always be investigated.

  • There are many kinds of anemia, but blood loss almost always

causes iron deficiency anemia. Unless there is an obvious source of

ongoing blood loss, this anemia needs to be explained.

  • Many cancers can cause anemia, but bowel cancers most

commonly cause iron deficiency anemia. Evaluation should include

endoscopy or X-ray studies of your upper and lower intestinal


5. Breast lump or breast discharge

  • Most breast lumps are noncancerous tumors such as

bordonuas or cysts. But all breast lumps need to be thoroughly


  • A negative mammogram result is not usually sufficient to evaluate

a breast lump. Your doctor needs to determine the appropriate X-ray

study which might include an MRI or an ultrasound of the


  • Generally, diagnosis requires a needle aspiration or biopsy (a small

tissue sample).

  • Discharge from a breast is common, but some forms of discharge

may be signs of cancer. If discharge is bloody or from only one

nipple, further evaluation is recommended.

  • Women are advised to conduct monthly breast self-examinations.

6. Lumps in the testicles

  • Most men (90%) with cancer of the testicle have a painless or

uncomfortable lump on a testicle.

  • Some men have an enlarged testicle.
  • Other conditions, such as infections and swollen veins, can also

cause changes in your testicles, but any lump should be evaluated. Men are advised to conduct monthly testicular self-examinations.

7. A change in urination

  • Urinary symptoms can include frequent urination, small amounts of

urine, and slow urine “ow or a general change in bladder function.

  • These symptoms can be caused by urinary infections (usually in

women) or, in men, by an enlarged prostate gland.

  • Most men will suffer from harmless prostate enlargement as

they age and will often have these urinary symptoms.

  • These symptoms may also signal prostate cancer.
  • Men experiencing urinary symptoms need further

investigation, possibly including blood tests and a digital rectal

exam. The PSA blood test, its indications, and interpretation of

results should be discussed with your health care provider.

  • If cancer is suspected, a biopsy of the prostate may be needed.
  • Cancer of the bladder and pelvic tumors can also cause irritation of

the bladder and urinary frequency.



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