When it comes to personal health, women, especially in India, often overlook their health problems as they keep the welfare of their family above their own. So, it is not uncommon for many women to ignore the symptoms that might be the early indicators of cancer.
Paying attention to the warning signs increases the likelihood of early detection of cancer, leading to a higher probability of cure and/or adequate control.
Here are some general symptoms of cancer that women should not ignore.
1. Unexplained weight loss: This is a non-specific symptom of any chronic disease, including malignancies. Unintentionally losing 5% of body weight in six months may be a sign of cancer and needs to be evaluated.
2. Loss of appetite: Anorexia is an important symptom of many cancers. The cause of this anorexia may be multifactorial, including substances released from or by the tumor, tumors altering gut function, tumors altering nutrients, or changes in the release of peripheral hormones that control appetite.
3. Constant fatigue: Fatigue that is not relieved by resting may be an important indicator of underlying malignancy. Instead of just blaming it on stress or hectic lifestyle, medical consultation should be sought.
4. Persistent indigestion or nausea: Persistent indigestion, dyspepsia, bloating sensation in the abdomen, and/or nausea may be related to underlying gynaecological malignancies and should not be ignored.
There are also some female-specific symptoms of cancer that women must look out for:
5. Abnormal vaginal bleeding: More than 90% of women diagnosed with endometrial cancer experience irregular bleeding. Postmenopausal bleeding, spotting included, should be evaluated.
If pre-menopausal women experience bleeding between periods, heavy bleeding, or bleeding during sex, then this can also be a sign of cervical or vaginal cancer. Bleeding after intercourse, douching, or a pelvic examination should not be ignored, and should therefore be promptly evaluated.
6. Dyspareunia: While pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse may be due to a variety of reasons, underlying cervical cancer should always be ruled out.
7. Pain in the pelvis or abdominal area: Such pain may be due to benign causes like endometriosis or dysmenorrhea, but such long lasting discomfort may be due to colorectal, ovarian, cervical, or endometrial cancers. Persistent back pain may also signal metastasis to vertebrae.
8. Changes in breasts: Most breast cancers are detected by women themselves during routine daily activities like bathing. They should be wary of lumps in the breast or armpit. Other symptoms to watch out for, include: changes to the skin on the breasts, changes in the appearance and feel of breasts, and abnormalities in the nipples.
9. Nipple discharge: Although most nipple discharges are not alarming, unilateral nipple discharge, especially if blood stained, should not be ignored.
10. Persistent urinary complaints: Urinary tract infections are the more common cause of urinary complaints in women, but recurrent or persistent complaints may signal an underlying malignancy of pelvic organs pressing upon the urinary bladder.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, don’t worry. Further investigations–like blood tests, mammography, ultrasounds, MRIs, and biopsies–will need to be done to ascertain the presence of cancer. Remember, early diagnosis is the difference between life and death when it comes to most cancers. So don’t ignore these warning signs and visit your doctor.