An oncologist explains the warning signs of cancer you must pay attention to

Just saying the word “cancer" is scary; living with it, is unimaginable. Thankfully knowing the warning signs of cancer can help you seek timely treatment and beat the disease.
warning signs of cancer
Knowing what cancer looks like can help you get speedy treatment. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr (Col) Ranga Rao Published: 26 Aug 2020, 05:59 pm IST
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Cancer starts as a single cell and multiples much quicker than normal cells. After 30 cell doublings, a mass of cells or tumour weighs one gram and measures around one centimetre—which does not cause any major symptoms.

But these cells make their own blood vessels, which grow along the tumour to supply nutrients and oxygen and allow the tumour cells travel to other organs. When the tumour grows big enough in any organ it causes symptoms due to the pressure it puts, the invasion it’s caused into neighbouring structures, damage to the organs, bleeding, and so on.

When it comes to the warning signs of cancer, one must understand that:

1. There are no symptoms exclusive to cancer and these symptoms can occur in a non-cancerous condition, like tuberculosis or any other illness as well.
2. Symptoms occur in the body mostly when the tumour is fairly big except a lump in visible places in the body.
3. The generally-accepted symptoms do not indicate that a person has cancer. They are suggestive and so one must undergo tests immediately to rule out the possibility of cancer.

Also, read: Can cancer really be prevented? Well, hear it from an oncologist

Following are a few symptoms that can be indicative of cancer and require further assessment medically:

Systemic symptoms: Unexplained fever, weight loss, loss of appetite, and not feeling well, unexplained anaemia, unexplained bone pains, anywhere in the body, recurrent infections, growing and unexplained persistent or recurring pain anywhere in the body.

Physical symptoms: Lump or swelling, usually painless, growing in the breast, testis, limbs, groin, mouth, neck or elsewhere.

Changes in breast: Painless swelling in the breast, armpit, or neck; deformity of or discharge from the nipple; dimpling of skin over the breast; difference in the two breasts like weight, size, or symmetry; redness anywhere; or unexplained swelling of the arm.

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Also, read: How to differentiate between benign and cancerous breast lumps? A gynaecologist explains

Gastrointestinal symptoms: Persistent symptoms of acidity or heartburn (after 40 years of), or vomiting; growing and persistent abdominal distention, discomfort or indigestion; changing bowel habits of constipation, or diarrhoea, alternating constipation and diarrhoea; difficulty in swallowing solids or liquids; bad smell in burps; lumpy feeling in the abdomen; pain and swelling in the right upper abdomen

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Other symptoms: 

1. Unexplained Bleeding from anywhere-urine, stools, mouth, cough, vomiting, skin, eyes etc.

2. Unexplained change in urine habits, like frequency, difficulty, blood in urine etc.

3. Persistent headache, vomiting, convulsions, temporary or permanent weakness in limbs or face.

4. Unexplained cough dry, or with blood tinged expectoration, breathlessness on exertion, pain chest on deep breathing.

5. Persistent mole that is increasing in size or bleeding.

6. Non healing ulcer anywhere in the body, like skin, tongue, or mouth.

7. Hoarseness of voice or change in the voice, difficulty in smelling, or foul smell in the mouth.

8. Fractured bones without any major fall or injury

9. Persistent backache and weakness of legs

Also, read: Can you guess all the causes of cancer? Well, let this quiz decide that for you

Just remember…
Any symptom that is unexplained by routine doctors’ examination, tests and is persisting should be investigated. These recommendations are very general, and for your specific needs please do discuss with your oncologist or family doctor.

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About the Author

An alumnus of JLN Medical College (MBBS), Ajmer, Dr (Col) Ranga Rao served with the Armed Forces Medical Services for 28 years. He is currently attached to the Max Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi where he is Director of Oncology Services and Sr. Consultant of Dept. of Medical Oncology ...Read More

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